Cinema review: The Descendants

The Descendants

THE DESCENDANTS: 15

RUNNING TIME: 115 minutes


DIRECTOR: Alexander Payne

STARRING: George Clooney, Judy Greer, Beau Bridges, Matthew Lillard, Robert Forster, Shailene Woodley, Amara Miller, Nick Krause

FILMS – in their golden age – used to rely almost solely on two things: a good tale performed by good actors.

There was no curtain of CGI to hide behind or big budget special effects, in fact the most they probably had to work with was a controlled explosion in a studio carpark.

The Descendants is a nod to that sort of old-time simplicity in that there’s no bloodshed or stunt doubles required – even the film’s setting on the islands of Hawaii plays second fiddle to its soap opera core.

This is a film that relies wholly on the drama of family life fraying at the seams and is a breath of fresh tropical air in these times of ostentatious film extravagance (which frankly, is starting to bore the tits right off me). 

George Clooney plays indifferent husband and father Matt King who finds out while his wife is in a coma that she was having an affair – borne of his workaholic neglect and her desperate housewife syndrome.

Clooney narrates the film in is his usual deadpan manner, telling paradise it can “go fuck itself” with fatigue rather than conviction, never really losing his rag as he rightly should, until he throws – woah, there! – a teddy bear across the room.

He bears the sudden weight of moral consciousness and responsibility with the underplayed manner he’s known for – all heavy sighs and furrowed brows as he comes to realise he needs to step up to the roles he has neglected.

As he tries to deal with the double whammy of his wife’s infidelity versus her imminent death, a duo of semi-delinquent daughters and a string of money-grabbing cousins nagging him to sell a Hawaiian beauty spot pile on the pressure.

Shailene Woodley, playing college student daughter, Alexandra, pins down middle class rebellion to a T and almost steals the show from Clooney with her smart mouth and wide-eyed incredulity (“Did you just spank me?!”) while Amara Miller strikes a heartbreaking balance between innocence and potty-mouthed copycat as ten-year-old  Scottie.

The Descendants – while flirting with the unspectacular at times – is a melodrama tinged with solemnity and seriousness with moments of quiet tragedy colouring it with poignancy.

It’s a tale of grief and loyalty, offset with a sprinkling of black humour, and it’s hard to argue with something quite that simple.

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Corbijn delivers pressure cooker drama

George couldn't remember if he'd turned the oven off

 RUNNING TIME: 1 hour 45 mins

 DIRECTOR: Anton Corbijn 

STARRING: George Clooney, Violante Placido, Thekla Reuten, Paolo Bonacell  

GEORGE Clooney stars in this unsettling thriller about an assassin on the verge of leaving his killing days behind.

The second directorial offering from photographer Anton Corbijn (Control), The American is beautifully shot to the backdrop of a remote Italian village.

Jack (Clooney) is “laying low” while he finishes his last job: making a custom-made rifle for a mystery woman who changes her hairstyle at every clandestine meeting.

The rest of his time is spent in a state of perpetual suspense, avoiding the relentless prying of the local priest (Bonacell) and fending off a stream of anonymous Swedish hitmen.

In keeping with dysfunctional loner behaviour, he takes time out from brooding to fall in love with Clara (Placido), a local prostitute, who chips away at his defensive facade.

But while this seems fairly action-packed, the pace simply simmers within the claustrophobic walls of Castel del Monte.

The sedate surroundings of this peaceful village are key to the contrasting violence and eroticism. The days are lit with drained blues and greens, the nights are bathed in danger-filled auburn and red.

Cramped, winding streets offer the perfect setting for nocturnal chases with every twisting corner hosting the potential for another gun-wielding Swede.

The dialogue is muted; lines are sparse but when they are uttered from our brow-furrowing anti-hero, they are loaded with unexplored meaning.

The characters exist only in the pressure cooker walls of Castel del Monte, there is no luxury of history or explanation attached to these people and we are left wondering the whys and wherefores.

Why does the mysterious woman want a gun? Who is trying to kill Jack? And what unspeakable event lurks in his past that makes him so damn miserable?

Don’t expect answers. Corbijn deliberately avoids depth in favour of lingering landscapes and bird’s-eye views of car journeys on spaghetti-like roads.

Gratuitous, maybe, but as a talented photographer he captures stunning snapshots of an unfolding drama, with no apology for its lack of past or future.

Existential in nature and stark in its sudden bursts of bloodshed, The American is a slow-burning but ultimately beautiful offering.