The Descendants Review
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Throughout his remarkable career, George Clooney has played all kinds of characters. He’s played hit men and crooks, politicians and foxy family men. He’s been slick and smooth—and sometimes silly, too. But he’s never been quite as real as he is in Alexander Payne’s The Descendants.

In this moving family drama, Clooney stars as Matt King, a Hawaiian lawyer who’s struggling to care for himself and his two daughters while his wife is in a coma following a boating accident. Ten-year-old Scottie (Amara Miller) is lashing out, while 17-year-old Alexandra (Shailene Woodley) has turned to drinking and drugs to deal with her anger and frustration.

When the doctor informs Matt that his wife won’t be getting better, he brings Alex home from school to say her last goodbyes. But Alex explains that she’s still upset about her last visit, during Christmas break, when she caught her mother with another man. Shocked and bewildered by Alex’s revelation, Matt decides to pack up his girls—and Alex’s dopey friend, Sid (Nick Krause)—and track down the man who had an affair with his wife.

Most of the time, when a film takes place in Hawaii, it’s either a fun-filled, hard-partying comedy or a dreamy romance. But The Descendants is neither. Instead, it’s an honest and heartfelt story about a real guy who’s dealing with an extremely messy situation—and it just happens to take place in a tropical paradise. The juxtaposition of the two—the laid-back, tropical setting, paired with the confusion and heartbreak that Matt’s experiencing—somehow makes it all the more compelling. And it just goes to show that life is hard—even if you happen to live in paradise.

While the story is well-written, though, The Descendants might have been just another drama without the sincere and sometimes overwhelmingly emotional performance of its Oscar-worthy star.

Clooney is known for playing smooth-talking characters that can charm their way through any situation. Deep down, they may have a touch of humanity hidden below the surface, but they’re always slick and polished, cool and sophisticated. But that’s not the case with Matt King. Though he’s descended from Hawaiian royalty, there’s absolutely nothing slick or cool or polished about him. He wears Hawaiian shirts and flip-flops. He works too much and spends too little time with his family. He doesn’t know how to talk to his daughters. In other words, he’s a normal guy. And that’s what makes him such an endearing character.

Meanwhile, in playing Matt, Clooney shows a kind of honesty and vulnerability that audiences have never really seen before. He runs through the full range of emotions that any real person in Matt’s situation would: the anger, the grief, the confusion. He even loses his cool once or twice. And his performance gives The Descendents the kind of emotional resonance that Clooney’s films rarely have. I don’t think a George Clooney film had ever made me cry before this one.

Films like The Descendents don’t come along every day. It’s honest and real and strikingly beautiful, with some moments that will make you laugh and even more that will make you cry. So pack some tissues and see it now—so you’ll know what everyone’s talking about on Oscar night.

Blu-ray Review:
When you finish watching a film that pairs an actor like George Clooney with a director like Alexander Payne, you want a special features menu that’s loaded with extras—and that’s exactly what you get from the Blu-ray release of The Descendants.

The extras included on the Blu-ray cover a little bit of everything. You’ll find a couple of deleted scenes, some music videos, and even an old silent film about Hawaii. Along the way, you’ll learn more about the history, the culture, and the families in Hawaii. You’ll discover the challenges involved in working on water, and you’ll even watch the cast and crew standing around while waiting for a cloud to pass. You’ll also hear some interesting casting stories—like the one about Matthew Lillard’s lightning-fast audition while his kids waited in the car.

There are, however, a few standouts on the disc—like Everybody Loves George, in which the cast members discuss just how much fun it is to work with Clooney. You’ll even get to see a little bit of his legendary on-set goofing around. Or, for a little more on the director, there’s Working with Alexander, which discusses the director’s work, his art, and his loyal crew members—along with some of his tips for making a good omelet. And, finally, there’s A Conversation with George Clooney and Alexander Payne, in which the actor and director discuss acting, directing, and some classic films. It’s a treat to watch these two talented filmmakers taking part in a laid-back conversation about their craft—so this one’s definitely a must-see.

In general, the film’s extras are often longer than expected (and sometimes longer than necessary), but watching them will only make you love Clooney more—and respect Payne more, too. So, if you have a few minutes to spare after watching The Descendants, be sure to take the time to watch at least a few of the features.

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