Brian Henry Martin at the movies

Everyone loves George

Published Thursday, 26 January 2012
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He is the favourite to win Best Actor at the Oscars next month, and rightly so.

George Clooney gives a wonderful lead performance in his new film The Descendants but Clooney has always been more than just a handsome face, he's a proper movie star and in that old Hollywood tradition, he's also an everyman, one of us.

It has been seven long years since director Alexander Payne's last big screen outing, the witty and wry wine-tasting road movie, Sideways. Back then George Clooney was desperate to be on-board, but Payne thought he was too big a star and would upset the grape cart, so to speak.

Could the renowned 'sexiest man alive' fit the bill as a misfit middle-aged man in crisis?

Of course he can!

As an actor George Clooney has matured like a fine wine, his gravelly voice and silver fox looks have given him an appealing vulnerability. And thankfully Payne has cast Clooney this time in a perfect storm of a part.

Set in Hawaii, The Descendants is a humourous and heartbreaking journey for Matt King (George Clooney), a heedless husband and deadbeat dad of two girls, who is forced to re-examine his family life when his wife suffers a tragic boating accident.

Also on his troubled mind, King is wrestling with the weighty decision of whether to sell the family's land, a perfect plot of Hawaiian paradise, handed down through the generations, hence the descendants.

This may not sound like a barrel of laughs but The Descendants is what the Americans call a 'dramedy', a comedy with dramatic moments. Director Alexander Payne is the master of the bittersweet twist, with the unique ability to turn tragedy into comedy in every scene. Payne's films like Election, About Schmidt and Sideways are painfully funny and at the same time painful to watch in places.

But overall they leave you with a welcoming warm glow. The Descendants is not so much 'It's A Wonderful Life' as 'It's A Hard Life But Wonderful In The End!' And George Clooney displays the very best qualities of James Stewart in his performance as the soul searching repentant father and husband who makes you laugh and cry.

Completing the dysfunctional King family are two fantastic performances from Shailene Woodley as troubled teenage daughter Alex, and Amara Miller as the stranger younger sister Scottie.

Among their many memorable scenes is one in which Alex overcome with grief, dives underwater in a leaf filled swimming pool. Payne's camera stays submerged with the tearful teen who weeps uncontrollably while her father looks on from above. This is simply a beautiful poignant piece of cinema.

Matt King's unfolding journey is also a natural expedition, which reveals the beauty and majesty of Hawaii. There is something wonderfully comforting about leaving the dark and cold of an Irish winter and being in a warm and snug cinema surrounded by enchanting Hawaiian music and the white sands of Waikiki.

It may well be in the Aloha state where George Clooney's career reaches a tropical peak but it all began back in the Bluegrass state of Kentucky. There was showbiz in his blood; his father Nick, was a TV newsreader and talk show host, while his aunt was the Hollywood actress and singer Rosemary Clooney.

Young George first found fame back in 1994 on television in the medical drama ER. A turning point in his career came when in 1997 he was cast as the caped crusader in the big budget bland blockbuster Batman and Robin.

After this dark knight disappointment Clooney turned away from the mainstream and has cultivated quite a brilliant career. Firstly, working with the best directors like the Coen Brothers on films like Oh Brother Where Art Thou and Stephen Soderbergh on films like Oceans 11 and also as a filmmaker too, directing and starring in the excellent political dramas Good Luck and Good Night, and The Ides of March.

Clooney has excelled on screen as gangster, senator, soldier and spy. He's filled to the brim with charm and not afraid to look foolish. One scene in The Descendants highlights his unique appeal, the simple act of running, which Clooney turns into a slapstick sprint. Expect no photo finish for Best Actor at the Academy Awards, George Clooney has already crossed the line.

The Descendants (Cert 15) is on general release from Friday 27th January.

© UTV News
B. H. Martin
B. H. Martin

Brian Henry Martin is an accomplished documentary filmmaker and UTV's resident film critic, appearing regularly on UTV Live Tonight.

No matter what the film, there's a good chance Brian has seen it.


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