George Clooney – George Clooney was great in this film as we kick off our ‘The Descendants’ movie review. The movie star plays Matt King, a middle-aged father and husband living in Hawaii, a lawyer, a descendant of Hawaiian royalty and a landowner whose family holds title to one of the state’s last open spaces.
As the movie begins, Matt’s wife, Elizabeth (played, wordlessly, by Patricia Hastie), lies in a coma after a boating accident, and Matt learns that she had been having an affair. He’s stunned, but he tries to do the right thing; later, when Elizabeth’s distraught father (Robert Forster) blames Matt for his daughter’s unhappiness, describing her as a faithful and loving wife, Matt swallows, almost imperceptibly, and lets it go. Clooney keeps the moment small, not drawing attention to it, but it’s one of a hundred such moments that make up a portrait of Matt: flawed but determined, ever-beleaguered, utterly real.
This is Payne’s specialty — darkly comic movies about flawed middle-aged men coping with crisis and taking stock — but “The Descendants,” based on Kaui Hart Hemmings’ novel, is arguably his warmest film to date.
Woodley, a real find, plays the troubled teen as a flinty, thrill-seeking survivor not at all impressed with her dad. Matt at first has no idea how to talk to her — she’s like an alien dropped into his house from the sky — but gradually learns. In fact, you even forget that Clooney is a movie star in this film.
Shot with affectionate naturalism by Phedon Papamichael, with the wet green curves of Hawaii becoming a character in itself, “The Descendants” is peppered with strong supporting performances.
“The Descendants” has a wordless, beautiful final scene in which nothing, yet everything, happens; we leave these characters knowing that they’re finally at home. Clooney was perfect for the role.