The Descendants

Alexander Payne makes smart movies about people (most often men) who are decidedly unheroic but are, generally speaking, good, even though their actions are often questionable. They do bad things for good reasons. Citizen Ruth, Election and Sideways were modern day morality tales, to my mind, and wonderful ones at that. They are so rich because of the person Payne chose to put at the center of the stories -- Laura Dern, Matthew Broderick and Paul Giamatti, respectively-- all terrific, intelligent performers.

Now there's George Clooney, who pulls on the skin of sad perplexity that is Matthew King, the protagonist in Payne's new film The Descendants. Clooney, individually, and the film, as a whole, have been celebrated as stellar examples of modern cinema and Payne as a true auteur of closely observed American tales. I would agree. What makes Clooney (who is so much more than an A-list movie star -- he's a real, honest-to-gosh actor) so good in the role as a near-widowed father of two unruly girls whose mother lies in a coma is his total immersion into the part. It's not the kind of immersion that requires bucketfuls of makeup (J. Edgar) or histrionics (Young Adult) but rather deep understanding of what's on the mind of a man at his wits' end and who, seemingly, with every additional scene must shoulder another burden.

Clooney's performance is quietly brilliant and deserving of every accolade he's received. His stunning young co-star Shailene Woodley, who plays his foul mouthed and foul tempered older daughter, is a revelation. Bravo, to all parties


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