Sean K. Cureton

Trouble in Paradise

In Movie Reviews: 2011 on December 2, 2011 at 4:04 pm

Theatrical Poster

The Descendants
4 out of 4 stars
Directed by Alexander Payne

Director Alexander Payne has for a long time now been one of the best directors of film drama. Starting in 1996 with his debut release of Citizen Ruth, which was closely followed by the 1999 release of Election, Payne has been a director who has been able to take a novel, and adapt it so perfectly to the screen that one ever becomes aware of the fact that the plot of his films are not of his own invention. Payne’s films are so seamlessly beautiful and achingly honest that his audience has continued to come out for his subsequent releases, which only got better with 2002’s About Schmidt and 2004’s Sideways.

The Descendants is Alexander Payne’s first feature film in seven years, and it delivers just as much of an emotional wallop as any of his other films. In the film, George Clooney stars as Matthew King, a Hawaiian land heir, who is faced with the difficult decision of either selling the land his family has owned for generations, or keeping the inheritance in the family. To make matters worse, his wife has just landed herself in a coma, leaving Matthew to take care of their two daughters on his own. Things become even worse when Matthew learns from his eldest daughter Alexandra, played brilliantly by young actress Shailene Woodley, that his wife has been cheating on him for a substantial amount of time.

The way the rest of the film is then able to take this fairly conventional drama, and turn it into one of the most humanly funny and tragically beautiful films of this year is what makes Payne one of the best directors working in Hollywood today. The way in which Payne uses his paradise setting as a place that is both beautiful and depressing becomes something that the viewer cannot take his eyes away from while the film is being shown, and it is something that the viewer will carry around with him after he has seen the end. Down to the very last details of the cinematography and the use of Hawaiian music on the soundtrack, Payne has made a film that is so in tune with its own themes, that the audience becomes so completely immersed in the film that the story never feels tired or clichéd, but is consistently and brutally honest.

Payne has also captured one of the best performances of George Clooney’s career in this film, with the only greater performance for Clooney having been delivered in 2009’s Up in the Air, which this reviewer still thinks should have received Best Picture for that year. Clooney’s performance is backed by the stunning performances given by Shailene Woodley as his daughter, Nick Krause as the strangely charming Sid, and Matthew Lillard giving his best performance since Scream, as the man that Clooney’s wife has an affair with. To top it all off, Payne also captures a great performance from Beau Bridges as a greedy uncle, whose laissez faire attitude is reminiscent of Beau’s brother playing the Dude.

In conclusion, Alexander Payne’s 2011 release of The Descendants is Payne’s first film since 2004’s Sideways, and proves to be just as emotionally powerful and humanly funny as any of Payne’s other films. Come Oscar season, Clooney should get a nomination for Best Actor, Payne should get a nomination for Best Director, and the film should receive a nomination for Best Picture. It’s just that good.


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