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10° & RAINY ON THURSDAY 27 JUNE IN SYDNEY
By Tom Glasson
January 08, 2012
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The Descendants

A beautifully touching, tragic and amusing follow-up film from the director of Sideways.
By Tom Glasson
January 08, 2012
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It's tough not to like George Clooney. Some might envy the guy, maybe even resent him a little, but few could deny his genuine and diverse talents when it comes to movies. As an actor, writer, director and producer he combines faculty with flair in a manner that feels like a nostalgic Cary Grant-esque throwback to the movie stars of yesteryear. If any criticism (excluding those of jilted ex-girlfriends) were to be levelled, it might only be that despite having appeared in over 30 films, he rarely strays from his entirely comfortable (and hugely profitable) comfort zone.

Having established himself in the mid-'90s as ER's impish yet charming Dr Ross, Clooney quickly embarked upon a succession of films in which his characters seemed entirely 'same song, next verse'. In essence, he'd become the go-to loveable rogue, the charismatic scoundrel, the 'George Clooney just playing George Clooney' guy. But then in 2005 everything changed. Clooney took on the role of disenfranchised CIA field officer Bob Barnes in Syriana and received the Academy Award for his efforts. Since then we've seen a whole slate of films in which he’s sought to extend himself as an actor and The Descendants is the finest example yet.

In it he plays Matt King, a Hawaiian-based lawyer whose life is upended when his wife suffers a waterskiing accident and lapses into an irremediable coma. Pursuant to her wishes, she's to be taken off life support, and so Matt must travel between the islands informing family and friends and asking them to say their final goodbyes. It's an emotionally taxing and thankless task made all the worse by having to break the news to his two daughters, 10-year-old Scottie (Amara Miller) and 17-year-old tearaway Alexandra (Shailene Woodley), along with the bombshell discovery that his wife had been cheating on him prior to the accident.

Directed by Alexander Payne (Sideways), The Descendants is a beautifully personal and nuanced story about love, loss and family. It's also terrifically funny at times, with almost every character gifted at least one laugh-aloud moment. Most notable, though, is Clooney's performance. Firstly, he's in every scene of the film aside from the opening shot. That's worth saying again: he's in every single scene of the entire film. But what really impresses is how un-Clooney it all is. There are no expensive suits, no beautiful women to charm and no lavish casinos to rob. If you can believe it, Clooney doesn’t even do 'The Clooney' (verb: to tilt one's head forward, look up through one's eyebrows and waggle one's head like a dashboard Elvis). Instead he plays a vain, vulnerable and altogether unassured parent grappling with grief, betrayal and responsibility. While The Descendants could very easily have regressed into a heavily cliched absentee-father/disgruntled daughter story, it instead serves up an intimate, thoughtful and endearing classic that's a must-see over the summer.

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