This is my review of The Descendants DVD.
I came to this film with no great expectations, having heard it panned by some critics, apart from praise for George Clooney’s strong presence to carry it. In fact, I found an absorbing, often amusing tale, and, if I was not deeply moved as I perhaps should have been, the story has stayed in my mind, and my opinion of the direction has risen on reflection.
What could be a morbid or mawkish tale is saved by humour, often at unlikely points, and by some excellent acting from the whole cast, not just from George Clooney. He plays Matt, a workaholic lawyer who has to cope with his two difficult daughters when his wife is left brain-damaged in a coma following an accident water-skiing. To cap it all, his elder daughter Alex reveals that her mother has been having an affair with an unknown man. Appalled that he had no inkling of this, Clooney is at once consumed with the desire to discover the man’s identity, and confront him.
A further twist is Matt’s role as trustee for a family landholding in one of the few remaining unspoilt stretches of coast in Hawaii. Passed down through the generations from a marriage long ago between a Hawaiian princess and a western missionary, this land is now seen by the descendants, (hence the film’s title) who have mostly blown all their wealth, as an opportunity to sell to developers for a fat profit. What will Matt decide, and why?
The Hawaiian setting, with the need to hop round between islands by plane, Clooney sporting a succession of flowery shirts, adds character to the tale. The lush green hills, vividly blooming shrubs and the beautiful sunlit coastline are offset by the American influence which has spawned ugly concrete urban tower blocks, commercialised the local food and made the traditional music sound like country and western, and by the evidence of a poor underclass such as you would find in other places which make no claim to be paradise.
Perhaps it is a weakness in the plot that the sick wife, indulged in the past by her domineering rough diamond father, evokes so little sympathy, while Clooney always appears decent and principled, although largely clueless when it comes to managing his daughters who run rings round him to get their own way, until the reality of their mother’s illness undermines their self-absorption.
I was not bored by the slow pace but felt that some of the final scenes could have been cut.