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Decisions and discovery for The Descendants

February 11th, 2012  |  Published in New Reels

Writer / director Alexander Payne gives us another superb emotional mix of painful laughs and heart-rending drama in The Descendants.

We last journeyed with writer / director Alexander Payne across Napa Valley, in the company of Miles and Jack in the Oscar-winning Sideways in 2004. This time the location’s Hawaii and I wouldn’t be surprised if the tourism figures go up after The Descendants, as they did after Sideways because he cleverly uses this paradise as a backdrop for a tragic / comic story involving Matt King – a beautiful, ordinary guy performance from George Clooney¬†– as we follow him while his personal life implodes before our eyes.

The Descendants_castBut luckily he has his 2 daughters to help him through this traumatic time, played fantastically by Shailene Woodley and Amara Miller – 2 absolute stars in the making. They berate, cajole and support their dad through finding out that the wife he thought was whiter than white, actually wasn’t and now she’s in a coma from a boating accident, he needs to work out how his, and their, lives move forward.

Added to that, Payne always provides a top notch supporting cast and this time we have Beau Bridges as Matt’s faux friendly cousin, Robert Forster as his father in law and best of all Matthew Lillard as his wife’s lover, Judy Greer as his wife and Nick Krause as his older daughter’s close friend Sid – absolutely brilliant performances.

Payne isn’t afraid to show the pain in people’s lives (no pun intended) and what you come away with from his films is actually a better understanding of who you are as a person, seen through the eyes of his protagonist – Warren Schmidt, Miles or Matt King in this case – he’s a brilliant and poetic film-maker who’ll hook me to the medium for as long as he’s making movies.

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