55th BFI London Film Festival – The Descendants Review

Alexander Payne’s (Sideways, About Schmidt) ‘The Descendants’, starring George Clooney (Ides of March, Syriana) in the lead role as Matt King, paints a heart-breaking picture of a man’s struggle to take care of his daughters after his wife is sent into a coma. Set in Hawaii, one would initially believe that the story will be cushioned by happiness in paradise. As the protagonist recalls in the opening sequence of the film, “our heartaches are just as painful”. The story touches on the subject of betrayal as the family decide to confront the man who was having an affair with King’s wife prior to her accident. King must also decide whether his family’s land in Hawaii should be sold to become a tourist attraction.

From the offset George Clooney is depicted as a normal man, a man who the audience can relate to on many levels. This is one of the strong points of the film and allows Clooney to really prove his talents as an actor by convincing us that these struggles are his own. King’s daughters, played by Shailene Woodley and Amara Miller, are also incredibly compelling. It is their characters, as well as the eventual breakdown of Clooney’s, that really touch the audience with their raw emotions. The supporting cast of the film, including Robert Foster (Heroes) and Judy Greer (Three Kings, Two and a Half Men), complete the film as their reactions and feelings successfully allows the audience to see their characters at their most vulnerable. The film also has its comic moments, showing that there is always a funny side in a bad situation. What is clear from watching the film is that Alexander Payne has an incredible talent as a director. The film is skilfully sequenced and flows with ease. It’s obvious that Phedon Papamichael’s (The Pursuit of Happiness, The Ides of March) work on the cinematography is valuable and helps accentuate the strong points of the product. Furthermore, the use of a traditional Hawaiian music helps to situate the audience in the characters’ world, and is a pleasing change to a typical film soundtrack.

Although some critics may find faults in the film, I find it hard to see any. When I had initially heard about it I was unsure how to react, I was pleasantly surprised. When looking at film’s nowadays one has to find its value. The relevance of Payne’s work to normal life is obvious; by the end of it the audience feels personally affected and attached to the main characters who have shared so much. Their experiences make the viewer look at their own life and realise that no matter how many hardships they have to face, they will get through it.

Reviewed by Roxy Simons.

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