The Descendants Alexander Payne

The Descendants Alexander Payne
The multiple Academy Award nominee and Oscar-winner for Best Adapted Screenplay, The Descendants is now available on DVD in a beautiful widescreen transfer that more than does justice to the film's gorgeous Hawaiian vistas; you feel like you can reach out and touch the swaying palms. Those who missed it in the theatre won't be disappointed by the visuals, less still by the story, which announces itself from George Clooney's opening narration as one that will subvert the tourist brochure picture of Hawaii everyone has. "Paradise can go fuck itself" is his blunt summation and it sets the tone for the film, with the mellowness of the people and the milieu frequently undermined by crosscurrents of bitterness, disappointment and rage. This is where the detractors who have dismissed the film as middlebrow Oscar bait have it wrong – for a serious-minded commercial comedy with a charismatic star in the lead, it's an awfully dark movie, with consistently surprising tonal shifts, and a testament to Alexander Payne's auteur status. Even Billy Wilder may not have dared to challenge his audiences the way Payne does. The plot details the struggle of Matt King (Clooney) to hold his family together in the wake of his wife Elizabeth's boating accident, which has put her into a coma. When his rebellious older daughter (the excellent Shailene Woodley) tearfully reveals that her mother was having an affair, Matt nearly goes off the rails. Simultaneously, he's on the verge of a huge real-estate deal: 25, 000 undeveloped acres of Kauai land owned by the Kings for generations are about to be sold, meaning a huge payday for Matt and his extended family. The story's two threads knit together beautifully by the film's end, with plenty of time left over for all the characters. As great a vehicle for Clooney's graceful star performance as this is, everybody in it leaves an indelible impression, notably Matthew Lillard as Elizabeth's hapless married boyfriend and Robert Forster as her belligerent father. Clooney excels, of course, but in a way we've never quite seen before. He has never inhabited a character so thoroughly; Matt's frailty and anger are painfully vivid and real. The movie's cautious, true-to-life happy ending is more than earned. Apart from some overly explicit narration that announces the themes a little strongly, you'd be hard-pressed to find a major flaw. This is definitely one of the best movies of the last few years. Extras consist of a trailer and a pair of disappointingly standard-issue featurettes on the star and director. The lack of commentary by Payne is regrettable, as he's one of the more thoughtful, erudite filmmakers working in Hollywood. Somewhat making up for this is an interesting third featurette depicting the importance of Hawaiian culture in the tapestry of the film. (Fox)