Director Alexander Payne (Election, Sideways) tells the bittersweet tale of Matt King (George Clooney) and his difficult journey as he attempts to do good by numerous family members, become the sole career for his two daughters, and please the community, all while investigating his wife’s secret past after she suffers a serious boating accident.

This combination of events was originally concocted by Kaui Hart Hemmings, in her 2007 debut novel of the same name. The story, set in Hawaii, meant that throughout the film we are treated with shoots of some of the most beautiful locations over the group of islands; this married with Hawaiian music allows us to become totally immersed in the life and home of the King family.

Clooney gives a stellar performance throughout, felting every impossible decision, rave of fury, and incredible sadness as his character fights to keep his head above water in this confusing time. But it is also worth acknowledging other performances; notably those of Matt’s children, Alexandra (Shailene Woodley) and Scottie (Amara Miller). Shailene adopts the role of a rebellious teen turned young adult with ease, while her character guides and supports Matt through some of the film’s more difficult scenes. For Amara, this film is her very first performance as an actress. It can sometimes be the case that, understandably, child actors do not shine under the weight and pressure of a big film – but this is not apparent here. Considering she worked alongside one or two industry giants, Amara seems unfazed as she sinks into the role with natural confidence, and delivers some genuinely funny lines.

One of the most memorable moments is a shot of Alex King, screaming in despair underwater in her pool. Hauntingly beautiful, the entire cinema sat in complete silence feeling every heart-wrenching moment as she falls apart. The Descendants took me on a rollercoaster of emotions, and if you want to see some beautiful direction, fantastic performances, and of course the gorgeous George Clooney in action; this is a film not to be missed.

Ellen Newton

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