George Clooney’s latest outing, as family man Matt King, sees him swap sharp suits for a bad Hawaiian shirt in The Descendants, a commentary about life, obligations and America: past, present and future.

‘Everything has its time’ says King as he looks upon his ancestors land in Hawaii. With the awards season upon us, Clooney’s time may have come for his touching portrayal of King, an unkempt workaholic lawyer and descendant of the Hawaiian Royal family who is forced to face up to his choices and responsibilities.

Based on the Kaui Hart Hemming novel of the same name, The Descendants is set on the Hawaiian Islands and as sole trustee of his family’s unspoilt inheritance, King knows that his decision to sell could change the islands forever.

This superbly executed and assured film begins when King’s wife Elizabeth (Patricia Hastie) is left in a coma following a water sports accident. Clooney shows real emotional depth and pathos as the estranged King as he comes to terms with his wife’s accident whilst trying to look after his two strong willed daughters.

Amara Miller steals most scenes as King’s younger daughter Scottie. She challenges her father at every opportunity with her innocent indifference, which is both hilarious and endearing. It’s hard to believe it’s her first feature especially after a truly heart-breaking scene at the hospital. Not knowing how to handle Scottie, King asks his rebellious angst-ridden teenage daughter Alexandra, fabulously played by Shailene Woodley, to help. Alexandra in turn insists that her friend Sid, played by Nick Krause, joins them; his slow-witted interludes are a light-hearted respite to Kings stoic humour.

The story takes a turn when King discovers a secret about his wife. Unable to comprehend what has happened he sets out on a mission with the help of his oldest daughter to learn the truth. In the hands of anyone else this could have been a thoughtless caper but co-writer and director Alexander Payne adds credibility to King’s tormented journey of discovery.

The Descendants is a multi-layered and profound study of people, relationships and their motivations. Filmed in the low season, the islands offer the perfect backdrop with their atmospheric low clouds adding a real sense of foreboding.

As with his movie Sideways, Payne puts his trust in his characters to produce a touching bitter sweet view of life with all its indecision, pain, humour, anguish and joy but also asks bigger questions about rights, responsibilities and duty we all have to live with.

The Descendants
FACT, out now
Wood Street

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