By William Wolf

NEW YORK FILM FESTIVAL 2011--THE DESCENDANTS   Send This Review to a Friend

George Clooney has become such a dominant screen presence that he is the closest we have to charismatic stars of the past, such as Cary Grant, Henry Fonda or James Stewart. One can’t take eyes off him, and he strikes a chord with whatever role he inhabits. His performance in “The Descendants,” set in Hawaii and directed by Alexander Payne, who wrote the screenplay with Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, is primarily what makes the film click as engrossing drama.

Clooney plays Matt King, a lawyer and father of two daughters, who is distraught because his wife lies in a coma as a result of a boating accident. He gets an extra jolt when he learns that she had been cheating on him. A wave of anger overtakes him and he is determined to confront her lover. But when he does, it becomes clear to him that life is not that simple.

The man with whom his wife was trysting is rooted to his own family, and out of decency King believes the lover should have a chance to say goodbye to his wife before she dies. Clooney brings the sort of intensity and intelligence to the role that is consistently involving, and the plot adds another element that, although less interesting than the emotional relationship aspects, opens the way to a further development in King’s character.

King’s agreement is key to a development plan embracing family land that has been part of its heritage. Greed has set in at the prospect of a big profit in which relatives can share. King finds the deal troublesome and the question of whether or not he will go along or block the proposal adds to the drama. When you put everything together, including King’s efforts to be a good father under pressure, “The Descendants,” benefiting from the screenplay’s sharp insights and dialogue, emerges as likable drama and a prime Clooney showcase. Others in the cast include Shailene Woodley, Beau Bridges, Judy Greer and Robert Forster. A Fox Searchlight Films release.


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