Year: 2011
Director: Alexander Payne
Writer: Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon, Jim Rash,
Kaui Hart Hemmings (novel)
Region of Origin: US
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Rating: R
35mm, Color, 115 mins

Synopsis: A land baron tries to re-connect with his two daughters after his wife suffers a boating accident. (Source)

Alexander Payne’s The Descendants is a beautiful look at all of life’s unexpected qualities, the good and the bad. In turn, it deals with a lot of very dark and depressing situations, yet handles them in a very mature way and delivers a necessary wakeup call with gentleness and grace. It’s the type of movie that puts you face to face with the fact that your life could literally end at any time, while also studying the effects of such a horrific event on those closest to you. Some of it’s most potent themes have to do with the legacy you leave behind, as well as the easier-said-than-done quality of forgiveness.

George Clooney plays Matt King, lawyer and husband to an estranged wife and “back-up parent” to 10-year-old Scottie (Amara Miller) and 17-year-old Alex (Shailene Woodley). He’s also the sole trustee to 25,000 acres of untouched Hawaiian land passed down to him from his ancestors. When the movie begins, he’s in the middle of two life changing events: first, his wife is in a coma with an uncertain outcome and second, he’s nearing a deal to finally sell the land and split the sale with his extended family. Soon enough, he’s the only one who really knows the extent of his wife’s condition, while also dealing with the pressure from of his relatives to sell the property. Both ordeals bear an understandably heavy weight on Matt’s shoulder’s, and things get a bit more complicated once he’s forced to reconnect with his own children, whom he barely knows.

Though the movie is brimming with a lot of great performances (Robert Forster, Mathew Lillard and Judy Greer come to mind), the two obvious standouts are George Clooney, who breaks out of his mold and portrays a broken father that is wiser and more mature than his other recent characters, and Shailene Woodley as his renegade daughter. The two have a very realistic rapport with one another, and their relationship actually covers a lot of poignant emotional ground as the movie progresses. Though, my favorite part has to be a line of dialogue that Clooney delivers towards the end. It effortlessly contributes to one of the best endings I’ve seen all year and it’s a testament to both his performance and the writing that he can have such a heartfelt bond to a character you’ve hardly seen or heard from for the duration of the story. I also gotta give a shout-out to Nick Krause as Alex’s semi-dim witted yet well meaning boyfriend, Sid; the guy’s hilarious.

In the end, The Descendants‘ greatest quality is the way it deals with its very dark subject matter without being a laborious torture or delivering an unnecessarily bleak attitude. It’s characters act very realistically, yet ultimately evoke a more refreshing and redemptive outlook without false emotion, or a contrived conclusion. It almost reminds me of a more mature 50/50, since there is some humor; however, it’s never forced, silly or overabundant. The laughs are also natural, and their well-placed nature allows them to be earned hand-in-hand with the movie’s emotion. This is also one of the best movie’s I’ve seen in a while about family and the long-term importance of one’s actions. It cuts straight to the heart through its fragile and very relatable/realistic relationships, while putting first and foremost the underrated transformative power of forgiveness.

Crome Rating: 4/5