At the very start of The Descendants, George Clooney, in a voice-over narration, reveals that while everybody in the world thinks of Hawaii as a Paradise it has its slums, its crime, its poverty, people dying of disease, etc. But in the remainder of the movie we see only a Paradise, with beautiful beaches, streets, homes and none of the negative aspects mentioned above.
And there is an abundance of the beauty as background to a film that is exceptionally strong in its story and wonderfully acted by all the principal players. The Descendants is true to the novel by Kaui Hart Hemmings, and Ms Hemmings has a small role in the movie.
The Descendants is mostly about relationships that are in terrible disrepair and how a great personal tragedy works to heal the bonds that have been dormant for years. Clooney is Matt King, husband of Elizabeth and the father of two daughters - Scottie is 10 and Alexandra (Alex) is 17 years old. Matt is also the lead trustee in a large family, mostly cousins, who own a vast pristine area on the island of Kauai. The property has been in the family for 150 years or so and is going to be sold to a developer. Everybody in the family will end up very rich from the proceeds of the sale, estimated near a billion dollars.
Matt's wife, Elizabeth, is a very beautiful, intelligent and exciting woman. She loves all physical challenges and as the story starts, she is in a deep coma after suffering serious injuries in a boating accident. Matt has spent his life devoting all his energies to his law practice and has been a negligent father and husband. He is having difficulties dealing with Scottie's rambunctious personality and Alex's rebelliousness. They don't really know him as a loving father. Now he must try to pull it all together. Alex in particular is extremely hostile to Matt and she also expresses hatred toward her mother. Alex is accompanied by a young man, Sid, who is a bit eccentric but very dear to Alex. She assures her father that their relationship is non-sexual.
Matt tries to tone down Alex's attitude toward her mother and tells Alex that at this time she must put aside the anger that arose after an altercation they had some time ago. Alex tells Matt, virtually spitting the words at him, that she argued with her mother because she discovered Elizabeth was having an affair with another man. Matt is devastated by this and is determined to find out who the man is and to confront him. Alex doesn't know who the man was, but she saw them together on more than one occasion. Meanwhile, Matt is informed that Elizabeth is beyond help and she will be taken off life support. She won't live beyond a few days after that.
Matt and Alex team up to find out the identity of Elizabeth's paramour and they do find him. He just happens to be the head of the real estate conglomerate that is the leading candidate to buy the King property. Matt tells him that his secret is out and suggests that the man go to see Elizabeth.
Through all this, Alex is becoming more civil and affectionate with her father and even forgiving of her mother's transgression. Matt and his girls find there is still a basis for family love among them as they focus on the reality that Elizabeth is in her final hours. They are bonded as never before. At this time the King family conclave to decide about the sale of the property is approaching.
George Clooney is exceptionally effective as Matt dealing with the tangle of emotions arising from the sudden confluence of various crises consuming his life. Clooney is well supported by the daughters, Shailene Woodley as Alex and Amara Miller as Scottie. Robert Forster steals a few scenes as Elizabeth's angry father, and Beau Bridges plays a good role as one of the King cousins. The Descendants is a serious film with a plot that is engaging and has all the elements of an award winner.
The Descendants is at Harkins Sedona 6 Theater.