It’s hard to miss the buzz around George Clooney’s new role in The Descendants. Already having won a Golden Globe for his performance as Matt King, The Descendants’ uninvolved husband and father, Clooney is also tipped for Oscar success with critics claiming this is the finest performance of his career.

The Descendants is based on the novel by Kaui Hart Hemmings and follows Matt King’s attempts to reconnect with his two daughters (Alex and Scottie King) after his wife is involved in a boating accident and left in a coma. Set in Hawaii, the underlying sub-plot sees Matt King reflecting on how to proceed with a trust fund in his care that is nearing its expiration – should he sell or keep the family’s 25,000 acres?

 

The film’s success is credited not only to Clooney, but to director Alexander Payne. Payne’s writing for his previous film Sideways also won an Oscar in 2005. And, in 2002, Payne co-wrote and directed the acclaimed About Schmidt. As with these two previous films, The Descendants sits somewhere between drama and comedy, encompassing both a great deal of sorrow and humour. Payne has an striking ability to pull the audience right into the inner feelings of his characters. Close up facial shots of Alex (underwater in the family pool) reacting to the news of her mother’s condition and similar close ups of Matt (running through the street and across the beach) when he discovers details of his wife’s affair, deliver emotion in droves.

The Descendants is brimming with interesting and complicated characters. Shailene Woodly gives an outstanding performance as Alex, who works through a complex and troubled relationship with both her parents. Scottie’s (Amara Miller) inappropriate behaviour is stunningly portrayed and Sid’s character (Alex’s friend played by Nick Krause) injects a much needed dose of positivity.

Returning to the man of the moment, George Clooney, the suggestion of a career-best performance inevitably generates preconceptions that distract the viewer. Admittedly I kept wondering will this be the scene where he blows me away? And sadly, for me, that scene never really came. Personally, I preferred him as Ryan Bingham in the 2009 film Up In The Air. But this career-best debate is merely a matter of comparison. What counts is that Clooney delivers a very solid, moving and believable performance that makes The Descendants worthy of its Best Picture nomination at this year’s Oscars. Not forgetting that The Descendants has a number of powerfully dramatic scenes that brutally carve their way into the audience’s consciousness – these are few and far between but then intense is not the The Descendants’ style. Instead, the beauty of Clooney’s performance lies in the subtlety of the film’s quieter moments.

The performance of Clooney’s career? I’m not so sure. But definitely a performance worth seeing from both Clooney and his co-stars.

VERDICT:   ✪ ✪ ✪ ✪

For the Official The Descendants website and trailer click here
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