Egged on by his estranged, troubled daughter, Alexandra (Shailene Woodley, TV’s The Secret Life of the American Teenager), Matt embarks on a search for this Mr. Speer — for curiosity, closure and/or confrontation, we’re not sure which.
What viewers can be sure of is this is the best Clooney has ever been. The man is always magnetic, but in terms of strict emotions, of being human, he’s right on target, with much of Matt’s regret and anguish told through Clooney’s hangdog eyes rather than lines from the page — until the end, when Matt has to tell his wife the words he’s kept bottled for years. It feels real, honest — just the sort of portrayal that deserved every trophy cast in any number of precious metals that went Clooney’s way.
Equally deserving was the film, the first for director/co-writer Alexander Payne since winning an Academy Award for 2004’s Sideways. Like that project, this one is full of fine performances, from Robert Forster (Jackie Brown) as Matt’s grumpy father-in-law to Judy Greer (Love and Other Drugs) as Speer’s down-to-earth wife. Behind Clooney, Greer gets the movie’s biggest scene; Forster, its biggest laugh.
New to Blu-ray and DVD, The Descendants is not perfect. The two daughters — newcomer Amara Miller being the other — lean a tad toward the sitcom side (I’m still baffled by all the talk of Woodley being “snubbed”), and one of Payne’s scene transitions looks like someone clicked “wipe” on the iMovie menu.
Yet such infractions are minor; like an anti-Terms of Endearment, Payne’s makes a mature work for mature adults without the sugary overdose of sentimentality. —Rod Lott