Tuesday, February 4, 2014

The Descendants (2011) [R] *****

Matt King (George Clooney) is a real-estate attorney living on the Hawaiian island of O'ahu with his wife and two daughters. Matt is hard-working and frugal, but his wife Elizabeth is a thrill-seeker, and over the years they have steadily grown apart and now live separate lives. In addition to Matt's law practice, he is the sole trustee of a very large Hawaiian land trust that traces its origins back to the Hawaiian monarchy in the 1860s. The trust has provided income for Matt and his large group of cousins, all descendants of the original royal landowners, but due to changing state law the trust must be liquidated, and the last parcel, twenty-five thousand pristine acres on the island of Kaua'i, must be sold. The land sale, worth roughly half a billion dollars, will make Matt and the other descendants very rich, but only if it is developed into a luxury resort, and this has sharply divided Hawaiians on Kaua'i and O'ahu, many of whom have strong opinions about what should be done with the land.

Against this backdrop of controversy, tragedy strikes Matt's family. Elizabeth is critically injured in a speed boating accident and lies in a coma in Queen's Hospital in Honolulu. Matt, who has been the back-up parent, suddenly finds himself parenting two bored, directionless and rebellious daughters: 17-year-old Alexandra (Shailene Woodley) and 10-year-old Scottie (Amara Miller). And then, Matt learns from Alexandra that his wife has been unfaithful to him, and when he discovers the identity of Elizabeth's paramour (played by Matthew Lillard), Matt decides to confront the man.

Based on the novel by Kaui Hart HemmingsThe Descendants features an Oscar-winning screenplay by Alexander PayneNat Faxon and Jim Rash, sensitive direction by Alexander Payne (Sideways), outstanding performances by George Clooney and Shailene Woodley, an excellent supporting cast, lovely cinematography of Kaua'i and O'ahu, and an evocative soundtrack of Hawaiian music. This is a film about a man who thought his life was going swimmingly, but who suddenly find that he's floundering helplessly, like a beached whale. It is a film about how families deal with tragedy, a film about acceptance and growth. It is a film with lessons to teach, and one that will haunt your thoughts for a long time after the credits roll. 

Label: drama, tragedy  
Internet Movie Database 
Metacritic 84/100 
RottenTomatoes Averages (critics=81, viewers=76) 

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