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Don't be fooled by appearances. In Hawaii, some of the most powerful people look like bums and stuntmen.


The Descendants
(2011)

An odyssey of self-discovery has been a feature of Alexander Payne's previous two films, and it now feels like it has become a fully-fledged running theme. Not that his central characters necessarily come to some point of profound realisation, but they do take (physical) journeys that leave them more aware and accepting. Payne has a propensity for making deceptively palatable films, where the subject matter (as here) doesn't appear instantly amenable. Perhaps it's just the deceptively loose, easy-going style he infuses his stories with.

George Clooney's somewhat absent father has to fill the void when his wife falls into a coma. Complicating matters is the news (from the older of his two daughters) that his wife was having an affair. Gorgeous George doesn't have a huge amount of work to do to make his character appealing, as he's essential a nice guy if somewhat out of touch. But he does have the gift of making a compelling performance seem effortless.

Great supporting work too from the likes of Beau Bridges, Robert Forster and judy Greer. It's the younger performers who stand out the most, though. Amara Miller and Shailene Woodley don't hit a bum note as his daughters, while Nick Krause steals the film as space cadet Sid. You start off wanting to thump him as much as Clooney does, but by the end you've most definitely seen his better nature. Payne's next film features the great Bruce Dern in the lead, so at least there won't be another seven-year gap between projects.

****

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