The Descendants, the first film in seven years from Sideways director Alexander Payne, opens Wednesday after being heralded at the Toronto Film Festival as an early Oscar contender. George Clooney's performance as a rumpled Hawaiian dad struggling to keep his family together after his cheating wife winds up in a coma is being singled out as one of the best yet from handsome George. Really?
It may well be: "Clooney's performance as Matt may be the best of his career," says Phil Wallace at Picktainment. Clooney usually plays the swaggering type, but Matt is vulnerable. "Clooney shows range that he's never displayed before" as he "deftly handles the challenge" of playing a "powerless soon-to-be widower" and "hopeless father" with two troubled daughters.
"Review: The Descendants rises to the occasion"
He certainly defies expectations: "Many filmmakers might not have thought of Clooney as the right guy to bring this cuckolded, grief-stricken dad to life on the screen," says Alonso Duralde at The Wrap. "But the actor once again proves adept at constantly finding new colors in his paintbox." Clooney plays a harried, somewhat dorky normal guy with aplomb, "juggling a panoply of emotions while completely inhabiting" the role.
"Descendants: George Clooney as a cuckold? Heck, yes!"
I didn't buy Clooney as vulnerable: "Clooney looks great barefoot and topless, and it's nice to see him play warmth as well as wit," says Rex Reed at The New York Observer. But in the end, I just didn't buy it. Clooney is called upon to do more than his usual "enigmatic winks and smug grins" here, and while he's charming, his moments of genuine pathos are unconvincing.
"A tropical melodrama with bright stars is an Alexander Payne-ful watch"
Blame the script for the film's problems: "Not even Clooney, who works wonders with the occasional piece of dialogue, can save" this film, its thinly written characters, and its cold, overly simplistic grasp of life's complexities, says Stephanie Zacharek at Movieline. The wife's infidelity turns Clooney's character into a cartoonishly "sanctified victim," and, while the gifted actor does his best to make it all believable, "he's undone at every turn by the self-assured calculation of the film around him."
"REVIEW: Alexander Payne gives us a facile movie about complex emotions in The Descendants"