We meet a woman as she is happily jet-skiing on a Hawwain beach. We then flash to her husband Matt King (played by George Clooney) who is a lawyer, father of two daughters and the sole trustee of a beautiful and large plot of land on the island of Kaua'i. Matt has to decide what he wishes to do with the land as the family trust will soon expire. Before Matt and his many family members formally decide on a deal to sell the land, Matt learns of a boating accident involving his wife Elizabeth, where wackiness ensues!
The Descendants is the long awaited movie from the director of SideWays, a movie that explored the relationship between two middle-aged males at one of life’s cross-roads, nestled in the beautiful Napa Vally winery region. Here, we are in Hawaii, and the environment, atmosphere and ambience is palpable. You can feel the heat of the breeze, smell of the ocean and completely understand its inhabitants’ cruisy way of life as dictated by the surrounding environment, much like the Australian tropics.
Reportedly, George Clooney wanted to play the role of 'Jack' in Sideways, however Payne turned him down, saying that he wanted someone lesser known for the role, Thomas Haden Church, best known for his role in television’s Ned and Stacey at the time. Here George Clooney gets his chance, and headlines with a relaxed, scruffy, quiet, gentle type of character, which is most notably his flaw.
This time around however, George is accompanied by a trio of young actors who more than make up for this character trait, none-more so than his on-screen daughter Shailene Woodley. At first glance Matt’s daughter’s (including Amara Miller) and his eldest daughter’s dim-witted beach dude friend (played by Nick Krause) are quite straight forward spoilt little brats who unravel during the film to show well-rounded characters whose true selves do give way during this horrible crisis.
The tone of the movie is interesting: amongst a very serious and morbid plot device, the director does not shy away from the fact that George’s wife, and mother to his children, is extremely morally flawed and is unglamorously hospitalized, looking like a corpse in front of her friends and family. George’s mission to make sure all of her family and friends receive the opportunity to say good-bye, amongst pressure from his extended family to sell the plot of land to the ire of residents, lays a ground-work for effortless characterization (no head-bopping here!) which, amongst a grim background, is funny in the delivery due to the way the characters are: a family that, despite all of their history and gripes, do actually love one another and who do look out for, and after, each other, when they are needed the most.
I give The Descendants 4.5 ukuleles out of 5. Fully deserving of its Golden Globe successes (best film, best actor)!
Luke McWilliams, January 2012
We meet Junior Campaign Manager Stephen Meyers ( played Ryan Gosling) as he sets up a debate for boss Mike Morris (played by George Clooney), Governor of Pennsylvania who is on presidential campaign in Ohio. Up against his main competitor Senator Ted Pullman, the win in Ohio will guarantee Morris the election, however there is a threat that the endorsement from Senator Thompson may sway the tide.
After a debate, the optimistic and possibly naïve Meyers is contacted by Pullman's Campaign Manager, rival Tom Duffy (played by Paul Giamatti) to meet with him in secret. Meyers chooses to attend this seemingly harmless meeting, where wackiness ensues!
The Ides of March has a great cast, strong acting and very authentic and fascinating environment. We are introduced to the very top of a presidential campaign, allowing us to be privy to the inner workings of the social environment of said campaign; from managerial staff, junior staff and the interns. We are quickly and simply brought up to speed on the importance of the campaign team’s Ohio win, and its’ strategy should things head north. The pace at which the campaign team works in, especially whilst advising the presidential nominee, is fast paced and high pressure, with no room for error and always with the threat of failure, and therefore demotions and unemployment, hanging in the balance.
Like a computer system, it is only when human errors come into play which damage this smooth and tightly wound system, as if the main players objectively recognize that human emotions such as love, greed and revenge are poisonous to the process. The business of politics is shown to be transparent and impersonal in the face of wiping out such imperfections of the system, with mutual respect, but subjectively damning consequences.
The stakes to the main characters who inhabit this world then are quite high: they are fighting for their own political careers, and, perhaps naively, the chance to change the world for the better. In this world, at this point in their campaign, issues and emotions are magnified, as they are responsible for the well-being of their nominee, staff and country. It is Marisa Tomei’s reporter however, who makes the observation that the general Joe, the citizen who wakes up, goes to work, sleeps and pays his taxes, who won’t even notice the difference if Mike Morris wins or loses. On that level of reality, the world simply keeps on rolling, regardless who is on the top.
In this sense, it is difficult for a viewer to regard the main player’ stake in these events to be as big as they feel they are: to empathise fully with the campaign is a bit of an effort, especially since we have seen so many political scandals in film and real life: Watergate, assassinations, infildelity and so on. Zack Snyder, director of The Man of Steel has said that a Superman movie has to deal with a threat to mankind itself, and every Mission Impossible has stakes so high, that it endangers the IMF team if not the world at large as well. In The Ides of March, the stakes are the failure of a campaign team, and the reality that, if they fail, they can lead a very comfortable life, working in a consulting firm for other presidential hopefuls in the future. Nice work if you can get it.
The Ides of March is an intriguing look at the inner workings of a presidential campaign, using Shakespearean motives to show the corruption of a young hopeful. George Clooney’s very intelligent and restrained story telling however may be too subtle for audience’s expecting more earth shattering consequences to the parties’ actions.
3.5 senators out of 5
Luke McWilliams, December 2011