The Descendants Blu-ray Review
In THE DESCENDANTS, Matt King (George Clooney) is a mild-mannered lawyer living in Hawaii who happens to be the inheritor of a large piece of land on the island, which is currently up for sale. He’s torn between keeping the land in the family (he shares the inheritance with his siblings) or selling it off and making everyone very wealthy. But that plotline is in the background since the true focus is on Matt’s attempt to reconnect with his daughters Alexandra (Shailene Woodley) and Scottie (Amara Miller) after their mother suffers brain damage in a water-skiing accident. Alexandra is a bit of a rebel who has lost respect for her father, mainly because she knew her mother was cheating on him.
It sounds like a lot is going on in THE DESCENDANTS, but director Alexander Payne does an outstanding job of keeping everything level and fully vetting each plotline. As we follow the story of the land and Matt’s battle with the siblings, we’re equally engaged with his journey with his daughters. This is a credit to Payne and fellow screenwriters Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, because lesser screenwriters may have tried to complicate the story by adding more subplots and extra turning points that didn’t do anything for the overall story. As it is, THE DESCENDANTS is a well focused character study, aided greatly by another spectacular performance from George Clooney.
And the performance of Clooney is really where the film shines. So much in THE DESCENDANTS is left to him to convey with his acting. Small gestures, facial expressions and well timed dialogue drive the film forward more than the script. There’s a scene in the middle of the film where Matt is talking to Alexandra’s friend, Sid (Nick Krause) that epitomizes what the film is about. Up until this point, Sid was merely a doofus who’s only purpose was for comic relief. But when Matt and Sid share a conversation and Sid reveals something about himself, their relationship, and the movie, changed. But what was great about the moment is that it didn’t need any grandstanding or huge action, just a change in the demeanor of Matt and the audience felt the same change that the characters on screen felt.
Along with Clooney, THE DESCENDANTS offered great performances from the entire supporting cast. Even Matthew Lillard managed to hold his own next to Clooney. But special recognition has to be given to Judy Greer, who may have broken out of her best-friend-to-the-leading-lady typecast that has plagued her career. She played the wife of the man with whom Matt’s wife was cheating with and her crying at the bedside of Matt’s wife was one of the better moments of the film.
Although I liked the film much more on second viewing, I still feel the film was a tad overrated. THE DESCENDANTS lacked some of the humor and subtleties of director Alexander Payne’s other films, such as ABOUT SCHMIDT and SIDEWAYS. But with a heartfelt story and great performances from everyone onscreen, it’s hard not to appreciate the beauty of THE DESCENDANTS.
Video: One of the more enjoyable aspects of THE DESCENDANTS is the beauty of Hawaii. The Blu-ray highlights the incredible landscapes and rich colors of the area.
Audio: THE DESCENDANTS is a dialogue-heavy film, but the audio was wonderful
The Real Descendants (12:04): John Morgan is the president of the Kualoa Ranch and this feature shows him talking about a real family that controls a large portion of land. I found this feature very interesting, since I didn’t realize THE DESCENDANTS had any truth behind it.
A Conversation with George Clooney and Alexander Payne (11:56): This is probably the best of the featurettes, since it features a candid Clooney and Payne sitting down and talking about the film. I always enjoy hearing actors talk about their experiences, even if they veer away from THE DESCENDANTS.
Deleted Scenes (5:44): Alexander Payne shows up to introduce two short deleted scenes form THE DESCENDANTS that didn’t have much of an impact on the overall film.
Everybody Loves George (7:26): The cast from THE DESCENDANTS shows up to tell you how great George Clooney is.
Working with Alexander (13:32): The cast from THE DESCENDANTS shows up to tell you how great Alexander Payne is.
Hawaiian Style (16:45): This is a featurette about the settings, production design and overall what it was like to film THE DESCENDANTS in Hawaii. This is a nice feature for those of us that won’t be going to Hawaii any time soon.
Casting (8:09): Alexander Payne discusses the exhausting casting process he went through on THE DESCENDANTS.
Working with Water (10:58): It doesn’t seem Payne or Clooney like working on water, but this featurette looks closer at the challenges the crew faced filming scenes on the water.
Waiting for the Light (2:52): A short montage of behind-the-scenes footage from THE DESCENDANTS.
The World Parade – Hawaii (9:52): This was an interesting featurette; a silent reel of old newsreel footage from Hawaii.
Music Videos and a Theatrical Trailer