DVD Review by Kam Williams
5-Time Oscar-Nominated Drama Arrives on DVD
Nominated for 5 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor, The Descendants ultimately only won in the Best Adapted Screenplay category. The film stars George Clooney as Matt King, an attorney on Hawaii who traces his lineage back to the 19th Century marriage of the islands’ last monarch to a European missionary.
As the family patriarch, he’s kept very by having to manage 25,000 acres of prime real estate on behalf of his extended clan. He and his wife, Liz (Patricia Hastie), have drifted so far apart that she’s having an affair with a local realtor (Matthew Lillard) who stands to make a fortune in commissions should Matt follow through with plans to sell the property in the trust to a developer.
Meanwhile, he has also grown distant from his two daughters. Consequently, 10 year-old Scottie (Amara King) has no qualms about giving her dad the finger, and her equally-rebellious teenage sister, Alex (Shailene Woodley), has taken to using drugs and dating older boys.
Everything changes the day Liz is left in a coma by a boating accident. Shaken out of the doldrums by the tragedy, Matt vows on the spot to be a better husband and father. But when the doctor’s dire diagnosis indicates that Liz is unlikely to emerge from a vegetative state, the best he can do is try to repair the relationships with his girls.
This is the engaging point of departure of The Descendants, a dysfunctional family drama based on Kaui Hart Hemmings’ debut novel of the same name. Directed and adapted to the big screen by Oscar-winner Alexander Payne (for Sideways), the film casts George Clooney against type as a far more introspective soul than the freewheeling bon vivants he ordinarily gets to play.
Unfortunately, he fails to cultivate the requisite gravitas to convince you that Matt has indeed been deeply affected by his wife’s imminent demise or that his decision to spend quality time with his kids is heartfelt. The problem is that, as narrator, he often merely informs the audience of his feelings via voiceover, as opposed to displaying the claimed character development via observable facial expressions.
That being said, even if Clooney is the picture’s weak link, the rest of the ensemble cast turn in such splendid performances that they more than make up for his failings. Making it even more worthwhile is how it all unfolds against the visually-captivating backdrop of Kauai.
A bittersweet tale chronicling an emotionally-unavailable father’s belated quest for redemption.
Excellent (4 stars)
Rated R for profanity and sexual references.
Running time: 115 minutes
Distributor: Fox Home Entertainment
DVD Extras: Everybody Loves George; Working with Alexander; and Hawaiian Style.