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Feb 19, 2012

Review: The Descendants (2011)

                   George Clooney, Shailene Woodley, Judy Greer, Beau Bridges, Nick Krause, Amara Miller, Matthew Lillard, Robert Forster, Patricia Hastie, Mary Birdsong, Rob Huebel, Milt Kogan, Laird Hamilton, Michael Ontkean and Matt Corboy.

Directed By:
                         Alexander Payne

                 So this current Oscars frontrunner and multiple award winning movie The Descendants which was my most anticipated movie of all the awards contenders is directed by the one and only Alexander Payne. I am a big fan of Sideways, a movie that is truly an American masterpiece and i was expecting the same magic now that he made a movie after so many years. I loved the movie for the first time i saw but thought it was a bit flawed towards the third act but still i loved it and now that i saw it for the third time, i think i love it even more. This is the story about a man Matt King who lives in Hawaii and is a lawyer as well as a trustee of a family trust that controls the acres of the land of his descendants. They are about to sell the land but in a boating accident, Matt's wife Elizabeth gets severely injured and goes into coma. Matt has two daughters, a 10 year old Scottie and 17 year old Alex, he have never been very close to them and now his wife at the hospital he has to take control. Matt finds out through his daughter Alex that his wife was cheating on him and he is curious to find that guy. Movie than follows around that plot along with the land problems and most of all, Elizabeth dying. Yes it is a very simple plot and a simple movie, isn't that how life is? It is complicated for the one whose living it but quite easy to describe it in such a simple way. There is much more to it but that would be quite detailing, i shall leave some of the story points for the rest of the review.

                This is as usual, a comedy-drama with equal layers of underlying humor as well as the lingering echoes of emotions in the movie. Exactly the kind of family drama or American family drama that Hollywood needs to make more often. Last time i remember, i loved American Beauty and i loved The Kids are all right and this movie follows. Alexander Payne knows how to make you sad one moment and laugh at the other, that is how life is quite rough and uneven, a roller coaster ride following ups and downs and spirals as well as plain tracks. I was really touched by this movie and i feel it is quite better than most of the movies i have seen last year, flaws aside it was better than most of the movies, the already weak year. I wont call it Alexander Payne's best movie but i honestly appreciate his work and hope that he makes more and more movies and not take years of break in between. So Geroge Clooney plays a family man, which is really surprising for me and i believe he really needed that. Clooney have always played the solitary characters, even with woman around his characters seems to find themselves lonely and isolated most of the time. What i mean to say is that i have never seen Clooney playing a character with a whole family and family problems , so this was change was worth it for sure. I hate the superficial criticism most of the people have about his acting that he plays himself over and over or he is same all the time. That is not true at all, as i said earlier, his characters are but he still finds ways to differentiate and stand out. Believe it or not, he is one of the best working actors in Hollywood right now.

               George Clooney's performance is perfect, pitch perfect portraying a man Matt King, his troubled and dysfunctional family, his problems with his relatives, betrayal of his wife and so many other things. Clooney truly stands out as last year's best performer bringing the right kind of attitude and emotion to his character. Matt King grows up, and you see that, you experience that and its all in front of your eyes. He seems to be very distant from everyone in a way, we learn about his not so good relation with his wife who he loves but still their marriage had some problems which lead Elizabeth to fall in love with another man to whom it was just a fling. Matt doesn't know anything or a lot about his daughters, in a scene at the beginning where he receives a complain from Scottie's principle while taking her back he says that the last time he took care of her alone, she was 3 and now she is 10 and have no idea what to do with her. His other daughter Alexandra has drinking and drugs problems, the obvious thing in the girl of her age and he tries to connect with her too which thankfully he does during the 'Finding Brian Speer' phase. Matt loves his wife even though after all she did, she might have did the same too after all they are family and that is how everyone is. Life is complicated and no one is perfect after all, he is worried and sad about his wife and he later finds out about no hope of his wife's coming back and that she would be taking out from the life support. He is determined to find a way through, to make it to the end with his family, he is ready to start all over again and forget and forgive everything.

                 Shailene Woodley plays Alexandra superbly, for an actress of her age she is a truly outstanding performer and someone i hope will have a great career ahead. Woodley received quite a lot of praise and award for her performance and even i was impressed by her. She steals every second of the screen time from the moment she is first introduced in the movie til the point where she says it all about her mother to dad and those are the stunning moments where you see the best of Woodley. The scene where Matt tells Alex about her mother dying she is swimming in her pool and suddenly she take a dive underwater and explodes the emotions out of her, the underwater grief scene is the one to remember. That is not all, the scene where she tells her father about why she fought with her mother and the affair, those are the moments where you can honestly feel the real side of Alex or any other grown up teenager. The deep place within the heart where one cares and love about ones own family and is destroyed by the bad things that go on no matter how bad, good or isolated the person is from their loved ones, their always is that feeling. Amara Miller, who plays the youngest daughter of Matt is just superb, i mean i am shocked with how great everyone performed in this movie right to the youngest cast member. I am very impressed by each of these actors and Alexander Payne for his abilities and talent and getting the best out of everything and everyone. In a small appearance by Judy Greer, she enlightens the screen with her presence in somewhat of a ordinary housewife very much in love with her husband. There are many more actors who truly performed very best and so this movie had one of the best ensemble cast.

                  This movie is adapted from a novel and is written very good, its winning everything but i would still not call it completely flawless. The screenplay shares some minor flaws and unevenness that holds up this movie a little bit even though it is quite an impressive movie for what it is but i just couldn't take my mind off that. Towards the end, the attention is diverted very much on the Finding Speer thing which diverts the whole feel of the movie and diverts your attentions too. The whole feel of the movie gets disrupted and somewhat we goes off track so i will call that quite unnecessary. The flow of the movie is just the right one and i think Payne really directed and written it good. As i said, Payne knows how to get the best of everything and he did here too. Locations are quite a matter in his movies and here the movie takes place in Hawaii and he captures the locations excellent. You will fall in love with that land with beautiful lush green mountains and lovely beaches. Cinematography and Editing are one of the best part of the movie after performances and screenplay. The local music have been used very well in many scenes according to the whole feel of the situations, it goes very quite in the scenes where characters talk and the next moment it feel like the best use of music in terms if the location.

                  This is the most emotional movie of Payne i have seen, the humor aside, this movie had more emotion than any of his previous work so you really won't want to call it a dark comedy like his previous work. The movie begins with a typical Clooney type commentary, yes that is the only CLOONEY he does in the entire movie where what he tries to say is that no matter where you are, in a city or a lush green Paradise life is same, life is a mess and you have to live it. The Descendants has a feel to it, i can't really describe it but it is there in the entire movie. Like when Matt is driving Scottie to Alex, its evening and that road with vast land the Hawaiian music and Matt looking at his daughter yet alone has so much emotion. I loved this movie for what it was maybe that is how life is, it is messed up and imperfect and it was intentioned to show these characters and situations in that particular way. If that is so, then this is one of the best characters study i have seen in a movie last year. Kudos to Payne for making this excellent movie.

Grade: B+