The Descendants – Clooney’s Oscar performance balances Payne’s weak points
It may seem as though the only way is up for Alexander Payne, who’s had a successful run from the start, but his first feature in seven years doesn’t quite stand as tall as his previous efforts.
The Descendants’ stars George Clooney as Matt King who is struggling to reestablish his dysfunctional family unit after his wife’s recent boating accident, which has left her hanging on by a string on life support. To add to the strain, he’s also about to embark on a madcap adventure to track down his wife’s illicit lover, with his children in tow.
Payne isn’t one for plain-face humour. Nor can his films called dark comedies. Instead, his witticisms are found in the midst of the characters’ pain and sadness. Clooney, if slightly miscast, is given a meaty role here and proves his ability as a skilled actor able to demonstrate a range of emotions with his character. Hawaii is his tropical hell, yet he acquits himself with a calm and cool exterior, if not for the sake of his children then for the inhabitants of the island who are unaware of the true gravity of his wife’s condition. Yet there are moments where we get to see glimpses of his personal strife, as subtle as they may be. It’s a performance that has earned the validation of the Academy Awards this year, and rightly so.
Sadly, the film loses its momentum in its plotless middle hour due to a sloppy screenplay and second-rate laughs. Some of Payne’s signature trademarks are present, but gone is the biting wit and irony that has made his early work much admired, only to be replaced by something a little more contrived and melodramatic.
It’s not a bad film by all means. It’s nicely crafted, has fine direction and cinematography, takes advantage of the stunning landscapes of Hawaii, and boasts a great lead performance by Clooney – who is this year’s favourite for the Oscar. However, one can’t help but feel somewhat let down by Payne’s latest offering.
Watch the trailer for The Descendants here