The Descendants is propelled by a powerful and well-written screenplay, some solid performances from the supporting cast and an understated but amazing one by George Clooney, perhaps his best, if not most poignant, in a long while. The Blu-ray itself offers up nice video and audio transfers while the features, although nice, are much to be desired.
Fox | R – 115 min. – $39.99 | March 13, 2012
Directed by: Alexander Payne
Writer(s): Kaui Hart Hemmings (novel); Alexander Payne and Nat Faxon & Jim Rash (screenplay)
Cast: George Clooney, Shailene Woodley, Amara Miller, Nick Krause, Beau Bridges, Matthew Lillard, Judy Greer
Theatrical Release Date: December 9, 2011
Features: Featurettes, Deleted Scenes, Music Videos, DVD Copy, Digital Copy
Number of Discs: 2
Slip Cover? Yes
Audio: English (DTS-HD MA 5.1), French (Dolby Digital 5.1), Spanish (Dolby Digital 5.1)
Video: 1080p/Widescreen 2.40
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish
Disc Size: 46.6 GB
Codec: MPEG-4 AVC
THE MOVIE – 4.0/5
Alexander Payne’s latest endeavor, The Descendants, is a well-rounded drama featuring a performance from George Clooney that very well may be the best of his career and deserving of the Academy Award nomination for Best Actor he received; it’s only unfortunate he went up against a novelty film in The Artist and its lead actor, Thomas Langmann. But beyond the good performances, for which there are a few, this is also finely and efficiently written from a novel by Kaui Hart Hemmings and adapted by Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon and Jim Rash (who went on to win for Best Adapted Screenplay).
The story centers on successful lawyer Matt King (GEORGE CLOONEY) living in the not-so-paradise Honolulu, as explained in a great narration to open the film, and his family including daughters Alexandra (SHAILENE WOODLEY) and Scottie (AMARA MILLER), both of whom have their own behavioral issues going on. Their mother and his wife, Elizabeth (PATRICIA HASTIE), is in a permanent vegetative state and per her wishes, will be placed off life support and allowed to die. When he learns from Alexandra that Elizabeth had been cheating on him, he sets out to find out who is was and meet the guy in person, not so much to start a fight, but learn more about who his wife really was.
Through all of this, King has the task of accepting a deal for a large piece of valuable land that has been in the family for centuries. This land could be worth upwards of $500 million but not everybody in his extended family wants to sell while others would like to take the money and sell to a land developer; take a guess which decision King eventually comes to… In any case, King, his two daughters and one of their friends, the dopey but lovable Sid (NICK KRAUSE), take a trip to one of the other islands in Hawaii after discovering his wife’s lover is a douche real estate agent named Brian Speer (MATTHEW LILLARD) who has a family of his own. Adding to the situation, Speer is involved in the potential land deal which could net him millions in commissions.
The Descendents is based upon the novel by Kaui Hart Hemmings and skillfully directed by Alexander Payne who also served as one of the screenwriters alongside Nat Faxon and Jim Rash (of “Community” and “Reno 911” fame). The script is rich with the same kind of drama and comedy as 2009 acclaimed film, Sideways, but never swings too far either way, either being too comedic to the point of slapstick or overly dramatic to where it’s exaggerated.
Also a highlight is George Clooney who probably turns in his best and most dynamic performance since Up in the Air, although his latest projects have all be mostly good including the underrated and lesser known, The American. The supporting cast also provides fine performances from Shailene Woodley – who has garnered praise for her starring role in “The Secret Life of the American Teenager” – Amara Miller, marking her feature film debut and doing a damn good job and not playing a little girl who is precocious and/or obnoxious that usually perforates in these kinds of movies.
The others in smaller roles – including Robert Forster, Matthew Lillard (nice to see him in a more serious role), Judy Greer and Beau Bridges – also give good performances in limited amount of screen time.
Overall, The Descendants is a well made drama-comedy featuring a fantastic performance from George Clooney who was deserving of his Best Actor nomination, a moving and realistic screenplay adaptation (which won for Best Adapted Screenplay), easily makes this recommended viewing. Yes, it is slow in pace but if you’ve enjoyed Alexander Payne’s previous efforts, this one will be in your wheelhouse.
SPECIAL FEATURES – 3.25/5
The Blu-ray has a glossy slip cover that matches the actual cover underneath.
Deleted Scenes (5:46; HD) – We only get two scenes and like most footage that gets removed, it was probably done for good reason, although the one scene between Clooney and Woodley was nice. Each is accompanied with text commentary by director Alexander Payne explaining why they were removed.
Everybody Loves George (7:27; HD) focuses on George Clooney and the performance he lends to the role. It mixes footage from the movie, behind-the-scenes shots and interviews with members of the cast and crew talking about what they’ve learned from the veteran actor.
Working with Alexander (13:34; HD) – This featurette is about director Alexander Payne showing off his cooking skills (which I wish the entire featurette was about) before we get some more sound bites with the cast as they give glowing praise for him.
The Real Descendants (12:06; HD) takes a look at the inspiration for the main character and his ancestral history. It’s interesting to listen and learn about some of Hawaii’s history.
Hawaiian Style (16:47; HD) covers the culture of Hawaii, the production design, and costume design.
Casting (8:11; HD) is self-explanatory as Payne explains how the casting process went for the movie from the main roles to some of the minor parts.
Working with Water (10:58; HD) – This featurette solely covers filming on boats and the challenges that come with it (like the sun, safety, etc).
Music Videos (10:28; HD) – We get videos for “Will I Ever See You Again”, “Postcards from Paradise” and “Honolulu’s Whisper”.
Waiting for the Light (2:52; HD) is a video postcard showing off some of the Hawaiian landscapes and the patience necessary shooting as the cast and crew must wait for the right amount of light from the sun.
Last up is a cool silent film entitled The World Parade-Hawaii (9:55; HD), a Conversation with George Clooney and Alexander Payne (11:58; HD) as the pair talk about different subjects, and the theatrical trailer (2:14; HD).
Previews – We Bought a Zoo, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan
Also included is a DVD Copy and Digital Copy compatible with WMV and iTunes.
VIDEO – 4.75/5
The Descendants arrives on Blu-ray with a fantastic and well-defined 1080p high-definition transfer. The movie, presented in its original 2.40 widescreen aspect ratio, has a great color array without looking oversaturated or pumped up for the home video release as well as fine detail levels throughout, being able to discern details on both far away and close-up shots. There’s a perceptible amount of fine natural film grain and noise which only adds to the theatrical-like experience.
AUDIO – 4.5/5
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track offers up a nice lossless track which benefits primarily for the dialogue coming out of the center channel. The other speakers are used for the wonderful Hawaiian-based music by Gabby Pahinui and many others as well as some ambient noises such as the crushing waves.
OVERALL – 4.0/5
Overall, The Descendants is propelled by a powerful and well-written screenplay, some solid performances from the supporting cast and an understated but amazing one by George Clooney, perhaps his best, if not most poignant, in a long while. The Blu-ray itself offers up nice video and audio transfers while the features, although nice, are much to be desired.
Brian Oliver, The Movieman
Check out some more screen caps by going to page 2. Please note, these do contain spoilers.