Thursday, 26 January 2012

The Descendants (2011)

Touted as a serious Oscar contender, The Descendants is said to be Clooney’s best performance. I've heard terms like ‘Tour de Force’ being thrown around. But is it Clooney’s one-man show, or a truly great film?

My verdict is great film and for several reasons. The first is the film’s soundtrack. Set in Hawaii, it would have been terribly easy to go for the all-too clichéd ukulele strum and raspy voice that seems to signal ‘tropical paradise’. Instead the music is unique, creative, scene-setting and very complimentary to the story.

Next, there are many scenes involving children, of varying ages, which is a minefield for a screenwriter, but The writer/director Alexander Payne (along with Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, the three of whom share writing credits) navigate the hotspot skillfully. The young girl sounds like a young girl. The teenager sounds like a teenager. Seeing kids act their age in film is refreshing and entertaining. Combine this with a heartfelt performance from Clooney and a surprising and strong performance from Beau Bridges, and we have the foundation for a truly excellent film.

The story built upon this foundation is no let down. On the sliding scale of artistic/accessible, we see the opportunity for the film to be more artistic with symbolism, but is withheld therefrom (for instance, Clooney’s ‘our family is like an archipelago’ speech could have been left out, and leave us the audience to get that). Still at no point do I feel it has been ‘dumbed down’ to broaden it's appeal. We are left to enjoy the complicated relationships and sympathetic portrayals of universal, very human problems.

A beautiful film about family, fidelity, and death, I can’t withhold high praise for the makers of this wonderful gem. 


  1. I noticed the "...archipelago..." metaphor, commented on it to my wife at the time and took the time to look it up on the web which is how I landed here. I think it was a great metaphor and stated, very succinctly, the situation that existed in the family. I also felt as though it may have been used by Hemmings in the book and that may have been how it found it's way into the film. Either way, it was a great metaphor. I agreed with everything in your review except for that. Film as art or art as film is lost on the average movie goer. As a critic who obviously feels he writes in deference to the art snob as opposed to the man in the street you might reevaluate your objective. I don't think "they" are reading you. I think "The Film Herald" is more about you than good movies.
    (At this point I did a search for "Scott C MacGregor" and "The Film Herald") You said the you offer, "A simple and accessible bi-weekly review of new films..." Perhaps you should just stay with the "simple and accessible" and leave the serious criticism to the big guns. You are not qualified. i enjoyed the film.

  2. After leaving the above comment I searched and found Joe Morgenstern's review in the Wall Street Journal. You might take a look.