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The Daily Tar Heel

Movie Review: The Descendants

Photos: Movie Review: The Descendants (Lyle Kendrick)

Though juxtaposed against Hawaiian scenery, Alexander Payne’s “The Descendants” is an emotional beat-down of a man in a personal paradise lost.

The film follows attorney Matt King (George Clooney) as he is wedged between managing the sale of his family’s undeveloped land and raising his children in the wake of his wife entering a coma.

King at the open seems like simply an overworked father, but with every punch he’s dealt, his caring essence is slowly unearthed.

The movie’s strength lies in watching a man whose world has imploded in one stroke come out the other self-aware, which is almost more triumphant than any act of heroism.

Clooney’s portrayal of this transition smoothly alternates between tragic and hilarious as he slowly learns of how unaware his obsession with work has made him of his own life.

Close face shots serve throughout the film as an effective medium to convey the pain of explaining death to a child and the mental blank that occurs when learning of a spouse’s affair.

King’s finding out he’d been made a cuckold is made so emotionally intense with Clooney’s defeated expression behind a calm facade that carries him through the movie.

King’s daughters, Alexandra (Shailene Woodley) and Scottie (Amara Miller), shine respectively as a wild teenager and poorly behaved child.
Woodley does not fall prey to the cliché wounded teenager and emerges the straight-shooter King needs. Miller, on the contrast, slowly reveals a hidden nougat of innocence under her bullying, middle-finger giving shell.

The family’s cousins, among the descendants to the royal Hawaiian land, help bring a further layer to King’s pressures. Beau Bridges plays dominant Cousin Hugh, whose well-wishes for King’s family is mixed with a hawkish desire to see King finalize the land’s sale.

“The Descendants” at points seem like watching a man’s familial stability go through a blender. But the satisfactory nature of their through hardship attests to Payne’s strength in conveying the resilience of the human spirit.

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