Film review

Clooney’s deft use of humour elevates The Descendants

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Clooney plays a full-time lawyer, part-time dad, trying to re-connect with his family

With the Academy Awards a little more than three weeks away, George Clooney is proving himself yet again with his exceptional performance in The Descendants.

Director Alexander Payne, creator of the Oscar-winning film Sideways, brings to life the story of a middle-aged Hawaiian man who is faced with tragedy and heartbreak.

Matt King (George Clooney) is left searching for answers about his marriage after his wife Elizabeth (Patricia Hastie) suffers a traumatic brain injury in a boating accident off the coast of Waikiki, Hawaii. Elizabeth is in a coma and only has a few days left to live, forcing Matt to look after their two difficult, often rebellious daughters, 17-year-old Alex (Shailene Woodley) and 10-year-old Scottie (Amara Miller). Matt calls himself "the back-up parent, the understudy" as he is an indifferent father who invests the majority of his time in his work as a lawyer.

Matt also controls a family trust of 25,000 acres of valuable Hawaiian land on Kauai and he is faced with a tough decision to preserve it or to sell it to developers.

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The Descendants movie trailer

When the doctor tells Matt that there is nothing else he can do to save Elizabeth's life, he travels to the Big Island to pick up Alex, who is at boarding school. He informs his eldest daughter that her mother is dying and her response conveys anger and resentment, emotions that are representative of the relationship she had with her mother.

While the ending is all too predictable, there are various twists and turns along the way that will have the audience both laughing and crying. Not to mention the Hawaiian music and scenery of various Hawaiian islands is truly spectacular.

George Clooney's role as a husband and father is riveting. He displays every emotion one would feel when dealing with a tragedy like this - from denial to sadness to frustration to anger and then finally, a sense of clarity. The clear-headedness he achieves allows him to make decisions that are best for his daughters and his family. When he comes to terms with his emotions, he finally realizes that family is what matters most in his life.

Clooney does a tremendous job of bringing the audience into the film and getting them to feel the emotions that not only he is feeling, but also the entire cast.

While there is nothing funny about tragedy, this film incorporates humour in a way that is dry but respectful.

Clooney is privileged to have a talented supporting cast who help give the movie what it needs to be Oscar-worthy. Shailene Woodley, who is best known for her leading role in the television series The Secret Life of the American Teenager, is outstanding in her big screen debut. This performance is sure to be the first of many successes for Woodley in the Hollywood film industry.

The Descendants is based on the novel by Kaui Hart Hemmings. Clooney delivers his best performance since Up in the Air, as a man who comes to the realization that his work is not the most important thing in his life. The character he plays in The Descendants is compelling and more importantly human. The Descendants won two Golden Globe Awards in January.

Clooney is up for Actor in a Leading Role and The Descendants is nominated for Best Picture, Directing, Film Editing and Writing (Adapted Screenplay).

The 84th annual Academy Awards take place on Feb. 26 at 8 p.m. AST.

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