BFI London Film Festival 2011: ‘The Descendants’


It’s been a seven year wait for a new film from US director Alexander Payne (his last, Sideways, was in 2004), but fortunately his latest effort The Descendants (2011) doesn’t disappoint in any shape or form. Featuring an Oscar-worthy central performance from BFI London Film Festival favourite George Clooney, Payne has once again crafted a supremely engaging, funny and touching tale of family politics, this time in the picturesque surroundings of the Hawaiin islands.

Based on the critically acclaimed novel by Kaui Hart Hemmings, The Descendants follows self-titled ‘back-up’ father-of-two Matt King (Clooney) as he frantically tries to keep his family together following a boating accident, which has left his wife Elizabeth (Patricia Hastie) in a life-threatening coma. Faced with the proposition of single-handedly reigning in his wayward daughters – 10-year-old Scottie (Amara Miller) and 17-year-old Alexandra (Shailene Woodley) – preparing his wife’s friends and relations for the worst and also finalising a significant sale of prime Hawaiin real estate that could have have far-reaching consequences for the entire community, Matt seemingly has it all to do.

After grimacing his way through his own directorial effort The Ides of March (2011), Payne gives Clooney the opportunity to really stretch his thespian legs, and the Hollywood icon grabs this opportunity with both hands. It really is hard to remember Clooney this good in front of a camera, and his sublime performance moves from heartbreaking melancholy to Coen-esque comedy with astounding ease.

In support, Miller and Woodley are both excellent as Matt’s rebellious daughters, at first cold to his fatherly advances before pulling together to ensure the family’s survival. A special mention should also go to Nick Krause in the role of Sid, Alexandra’s stoner friend/boyfriend who functions effectively as a younger incarnation of Thomas Haden Church’s affable slacker in Sideways, on is seemingly always on hand (much to Matt’s initial annoyance) to provide some great moments of comic relief.

With The Descendants, Payne once again establishes himself as one of America’s finest independent film directors, and Clooney as perhaps the most watchable US actors of his generation – a match made in paradise then, with the perfect setting to boot.

For more BFI London Film Festival 2011 coverage, simply follow this link.

Daniel Green