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The Descendants (2011)

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 3/13/2012

All Ratings out of





Review by Mike Long, Posted on 3/22/2012

In the past, actors became famous because of the characters they played. When we thought of them, we pictured them in their movies. Today, we live in a gossip society and we are privy to every detail about celebrities. Because of this, we often see actors more at parties, award shows, or vacationing than we do in movies or on television shows. Therefore, when we think of them, we think of their public persona. Take George Clooney for example -- because of his rich playboy lifestyle, he's constantly featured on "entertainment news" programs and in tabloids. And I like Clooney's public persona. He seems like a really cool guy -- the kind of person that you'd like to hang out with. But, I'm not always crazy about his movies. I distinctly remember seeing the trailer for The Descendants and saying to my wife, "I like Clooney, but I never have any urge to see his movies." Was The Descendants able to win me over?

Clooney stars in The Descendants as Matt King, a man who lives in Hawaii and is under a lot of stress. His wife, Elizabeth (Patricia Hastie), is in a coma following a boating accident. Matt's family owns a large piece of a Hawaiian island, and he is in charge of a negotiation to sell it. However, there are two buyers vying for the property and the family must vote on a plan of action. His youngest daughter, Scottie (Amara Miller), is being shielded from the truth about the severity of her mother's condition. Feeling that the entire family should be together during this time, Matt retrieves his teenaged daughter, Alexandra (Shailene Woodley), from the boarding school which she attends due to her reckless behavior. Matt must now deal with his bickering daughters, and Alexandra's clueless friend, Sid (Nick Krause). Then, things get even worse -- Matt learns that Elizabeth was cheating on him. Now, despite all that is going on, Matt wants to confront the other man.

Based on a novel by Kaui Hart Hemmings, The Descendants won the Academy Award for Best Writing, Adapted Screenplay. I haven't read the source novel, but it's fairly easy to see why this movie won, as the story contains so many layers. First of all, we have not one, but four plotlines which could have easily been their own movie -- 1. Elizabeth's accident, 2. The land sale, 3. Alexandra and Scottie, and 4. Elizabeth's affair. Normally, a movie with this much going on would wind up being muddled and incomprehensible. However, Writer/Director Alexander Payne and his Co-writers Jim Rash (the dean from Community) and Nat Faxon (an actor who has appeared in several Broken Lizard movies and at least one Capitol One commercial) have found a way to balance everything out. The movie rolls out the various plot points one at a time so that they build upon one another. This seems challenging enough, but then The Descendants gets even more impressive when the various stories begin to overlap. This brings in some plot twists which are surprising and come as even moreso because of the casual way they are introduced. (The movie seems to adopt a laid-back Hawaiian attitude.)

The other great thing which The Descendants seems to pull off with little effort is its surprisingly light-hearted nature. Now, I wouldn't go as far as calling the film a comedy, or even a dramedy, however it is able to take its decidedly heavy subject-matter and still inject some laughs. How is this accomplished? Through the genuineness of the characters. A few things go over-the-top here and there in the movie, but for the most part, the people inhabiting The Descendants feel real, and as we all hopefully know, life can often present humorous situations. So, there are few real "jokes" in the film, but some comments and gestures feel authentic, and therefore, funny. But, that' not to imply that the movie isn't emotional. Again, the characters create some moving moments and the realistic way that Elizabeth's condition is portrayed certainly call for Kleenex.

Of course, all of this is possible due to the acting. Clooney is at the top of his game here. I haven't seen The Artist, but I get the feeling that Clooney got robbed in the Best Actor department. He doesn't look like a movie star here. He looks like a man who is at the end of his rope. The other bright star here is Shailene Woodley, who's character could have easily been unlikable. But Woodley is able to strike a balance between a balance between a teenager with an attitude and a girl who is worried about her family.

I've liked some of Alexander Payne's work in the past (most notably Election), but unlike some, I don't think he's the end-all/be-all. The Descendants may be his most balanced movie yet. It's a moving drama which is complex and interesting, while never seeming pretentious. We get some laughs, some tears and I enjoyed a Clooney movie.

The Descendants could have used some more Judy Greer on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 25 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear, showing no overt grain and no defects from the source material. The colors look very good and the image is never overly dark or bright. The image is nicely detailed and we can make out textures on objects. The depth is good, and the landscape shots look great. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 4.0 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. Being a drama, we don't get a glut of dynamic audio effects here. But, the beach scenes do provide some nicely detailed stereo and surround effects. The film's music fills the speakers and we can pick out individual instruments.

The Descendants Blu-ray Disc contains a number of extras. The Disc contains two DELETED SCENES which run about 6 minutes, which includes text introductions from Payne. One is nearly identical to the one in the film, while the second offers a new scene between Matt and Alexandra. The other actors talk about their experiences working with Clooney in "Everybody Loves George" (7 minutes). "Working with Alexander" (14 minutes) contains an interview with Payne, who describes his work on the film and his devotion to his crew, and comments from the cast and crew, who talk about Payne's working style. "The Real Descendants" (12 minutes) is an interview with Jack Morgan, who describes how his family came to own a very large parcel of land in Hawaii -- very similar to the story in the film. "Hawaiian Style" (17 minutes) looks at some of the unique aspects of making a movie in Hawaii, including a blessing of the movie by an Hawaiian priest. Payne talks about how the actors were chosen for the film in "Casting" (8 minutes), including the use of locals. "Working with Water" (11 minutes) has Payne describing the challenges of shooting scenes which take place in a boat. The Disc contains MUSIC VIDEOS for three songs which are featured in the film. "Waiting for the Light" (3 minutes) is simply a reel of on-set footage as the crew waits for the sun to be at the right angle. "The World Parade - Hawaii" (10 minutes) is a silent newsreel which shows life in Hawaii. "A Conversation with George Clooney and Alexander Payne" (12 minutes) is an interview in which the pair discuss various topics. The extras are rounded out by the THEATRICAL TRAILER for the film.

Review Copyright 2012 by Mike Long