Friday, November 18, 2011
The situation is dreadful—the wife is on a death
bed. Then more salt is rubbed into the wound—the wife
has been cheating. Yet, director Alexander
Payne masterfully sails into this dire and troubled
water with perfect precision and remarkably emerges with
a humorous and delightful "The Descendants"
(USA 2011 | 115 min.), the first film since his
seven years ago.
Living in scenery Hawaiʻi, Matt King (George Clooney) is a real estate lawyer, as well as the trustee of a piece of ocean front land that developers are eager to tap into. After his wife Elizabeth (Patricia Hastie) is injured in a water-skiing accident and slips into a coma, Matt's "back-up parent" role is suddenly changed. Worse, he has to break the news about Elizabeth's inevitable death to his two daughters—10-year-old Scottie (Amara Miller) and 17-year-old Alexandra (Shailene Woodley), as well as the extended family and friends.
As if this is not bad enough, in the midst of this chaotic life changing event, Alexandra drops the bomb shell: Elizabeth has been cheating on Matt with a real estate agent Brian Speer (Matthew Lillard). Matt wants to find out who Brian is. With Scottie, Alexandra and her side kick Sid (Nick Krause), Matt sets out to track down Brian. However, what he really discovers during the journey is his family and himself.
It is an exquisite pleasure to watch the terrific performance from George Clooney in a role similar like Paul Giamatti played in "Sideways". The idea of a woman cheats on the "sexiest man alive" is quite comical itself. Although George Clooney can easily become the mega star of the film, he never shadows the excellent performance by the entire ensemble cast.
Alexander Payne creates his characters with great sensibility, diligent care, calm pace, and pitch perfect balance. These characters are rich and complex, believable and funny, refreshing and memorable. They are not perfect people, nor are they meant to be. But they are alive, and people can resonate with them.
The last scene of the film poetically summarizes the story without a single word, as if Alexander Payne is finishing a fantastic painting with one last brilliant stroke. That stroke wonderfully concludes the film which is one of this year's best.