Seven years after the Oscar-winning Sideways, Alexander Payne cements his status as the American screen’s ruling master of finding warmth and humour in serious dramatic situations. In stark terms, his latest is essentially about coming to terms with loss, thrusting Hawaiian lawyer George Clooney into crisis when a boating accident leaves his wife in a coma. He has two daughters to look after and a family inheritance has also charged him with deciding the future of thousands of acres of unspoiled coast. The story outline doesn’t quite convey the level of insight and wit Payne brings to the proceedings as this befuddled individual, plus family and friends, shamble their way through the toughest of times. What holds the ensemble together is Clooney’s career-defining and Oscar-worthy performance. He’s entirely believable and increasingly sympathetic as a man who has buried himself in work and responsibility to such a degree he’s lost track of the emotional connections that make life worthwhile. Wise and moving, The Descendants is a lovely film. (Notes by Trevor Johnston.)
Alexander Payne’s earlier films are also showing in a special season this month.