I first saw The Descendants as a birthday present, and I still remember what I thought when I left the theater; it was just about the most perfectly made film I had seen in a long time. Now, having seen Sideways, I can understand it a lot better; Alexander Payne’s films so completely embody and encompass their subject matter that it’s hard to believe they are all done by the same director. But, if you pay attention to the smartly written script and the pitch-perfect direction, you can quite easily tell that it’s by the same guy, all right.
The main draw, aside from the pretty much perfect script, is the acting. I’d heard plenty of hype surrounding George Clooney’s performance, so I was expecting him to completely knock it out of the park, which he does, but what I wasn’t expecting was Shailene Woodley, who plays Clooney’s teenage daughter. She gives a complete and outstanding breakout performance; her introduction doesn’t do much to endear us to her at first, but she quickly grows on us as a character, thanks to Woodley and her superb acting. The rest of the supporting players are also just about perfect; another notable one is Woodley’s character’s “friend” Sid, who gives a great deal of the comic relief.
The cinematography was very nice, and often took advantage of the natural Hawaii surroundings; the editing was very fluid and dissolved into the background, as great editing should; the composition and framing of the shots always kept the interest going; really, everything about this film was damn near perfect, and I suspect that to be the case with all of Alexander Payne’s films. If it hadn’t been for The Artist, I think this stood a really good shot at winning Best Picture; the film really is that good. I think I can consider myself now officially a fan of Alexander Payne, and I look forward to whatever he comes up with next.
Arbitrary Rating: 9/10