Attorney Matt King (George Clooney) can trace his lineage back to the 19th century marriage of the last Hawaiian monarch to a European missionary. Today, as the family patriarch, he’s very busy managing 25,000 acres of prime real estate on behalf of his extended clan.
Sadly, he has neglected his wife, Liz (Patricia Hastie), and they have drifted so far apart that he’s unaware that she is having an affair virtually right under his nose. Her partner is the local realtor (Matthew Lillard) who stands to make a fortune in commissions if Matt follows through with his tentative plans to sell all the property in the trust to a developer.
Unfortunately, Matt has also grown distant from his two daughters. Ten-year-old Scottie (Amara King) has no qualms about disrespecting her father, and her teenage sister, Alex (Shailene Woodley), is using drugs and dating boys who are a lot older than herself.
Everything changes when Liz is left in a coma after a boating accident. Shaken out of the doldrums by the tragedy, Matt vows to be a better husband and father. But when the doctor’s dire diagnosis indicates that Liz is unlikely to emerge from a vegetative state, the best he can do is to try to repair his relationship with his daughters.
This is the point of departure of The Descendants, a drama based on Kaui Hart Hemmings’ debut novel of the same name. Directed and adapted to the big screen by Oscar-winner Alexander Payne (for Sideways), the film stars George Clooney as a parent filled with overwhelming regret.
Unfortunately, Clooney fails to demonstrate the requisite gravitas to convince you that his character Matt has been deeply affected by his wife’s imminent demise or that his decision to spend quality time with his childrens is heartfelt. The problem is that, as narrator, he often merely informs the audience of his feelings via voiceover, as opposed to portraying the emotions with his facial expressions and acting.
However, even if Clooney is the picture’s weak link, the rest of the cast turns in such splendid performances that they make up for his shortcomings. As an additional bonus, the movie unfolds against the visually captivating backdrop of Hawaii’s island of Kauai.
Excellent (****). Rated R for profanity and sexual references. Running time: 115 minutes. Distributor: Fox Searchlight