The daddy of all roles for Clooney
Seven years after bringing us the 'middle-aged males in crisis' masterpiece Sideways, Alexander Payne returns to the theme, one which he'd also explored in Election and About Schmidt.
Set on the Hawaiian island of O'ahu, the tone for The Descendants is established from the off with a voiceover from Clooney's character Matt King explaining that just because people live in such beautiful surroundings doesn't mean they're immune to the pain and sorrows of life, as Matt soon discovers. His wife Elizabeth lies in a coma following a motorboat accident and he finds himself having to care for his two daughters, 10-year-old Scottie (Amara Miller) and 17-year-old Alexandra (Shailene Woodley).
Having been, as he describes it himself, 'the understudy, the back-up parent', Matt finds his imposed duties frustrating, especially as he's having to deal with the news that Elizabeth isn't going to wake up.
Into this mix the surly, moody Alexandra drops the bombshell that Elizabeth had been having an affair and intended to divorce him, prompting Matt to take his two daughters, along with the eldest's gormless boyfriend Sid (Nick Krause), on a trip to the neighbouring island of Kaua'i in order to confront the man who cuckolded him.
As you can gather, there's plenty to be going on with here but Payne manages to keep all the balls in the air with great skill and he's aided in no small part by several wonderful performances.
Clooney is perfect for the role of Matt and gives the best performance of his career, bringing a believable bewilderment, anger and frustration to a beautifully written role.
It's a difficult trick to maintain the right tone in a film like this but Payne manages a perfect balance between the comic and tragic aspects of the story -- and several parts are very funny indeed -- with the stunning scenery of O'ahu and Kaua'i not exactly harming his cause either. HHHHI
LIKE CRAZY Romantic Drama. Starring Felicity Jones, Anton Yelchin, Jennifer Lawrence. Directed by Drake Doremus. Cert 15A
This Indie romance was the toast of Sundance last year, with the film itself and Felicity Jones receiving awards and it's easy to see how both appealed to that particular audience. Like Crazy is very much in the tradition of hip, walking-and-talking low-budget affairs such as Before Sunrise through In Search of a Midnight Kiss and the recent Weekend and is perfectly acceptable along those lines, with strong performances from Jones and Anton Yelchin.
She plays Anna, a British girl studying English in Los Angeles who meets Jacob (Yelchin), an aspiring furniture maker and they fall in love over a blissful summer.
However, Anna rather foolishly overstays her visa, returns home for a wedding, is refused re-entry to the United States and we're into the territory of long-distance romance. It's all handled well enough, with a fine chemistry and natural-sounding dialogue between the leads but the film does sag somewhat in the middle when Jacob falls for his lovely assistant Samantha (Jennifer Lawrence) while she hooks up with domineering City wideboy Simon (Charlie Bewley) and we're set up for a rather unlikely and credibility-stretching third act. Not bad though. HHHII
A MONSTER IN PARIS Animation. Starring the voices of Vanessa Paradis, Sean Lennon, Adam Goldberg. Cert General
The director of Shark Tale is behind the lens for this French-made animation in which an accident in an eccentric scientist's laboratory causes a flea to mutate and terrorise fin-de-siecle Paris.
Luckily, the flea is a masterful musician and becomes the toast of the town in a gentle, lovingly drawn and more than passable adventure. HHHII
INTRUDERS Horror. Starring Clive Owen, Carice Van Houten, Ella Purnell, Pilar Lopez De Ayala. Directed by Juan Carlos Fresnadillo. Cert 15A
For the first half-hour, this horror movie is nicely creepy and intriguing, and we move back and forth between Spain and England as two children are both terrorised at night by the same faceless phantom, Hollowface. Alas, the lurch into the ludicrous is looming by the halfway mark and thereafter the film rapidly heads for 'Ah lads!' territory, leaving decent performers like Clive Owen, Carice Van Houten and Pilar Lopez de Ayala floundering in a sea of silliness.HHIII