Subtlety and Complexity as Art


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I remarked to the missus as we walked out of The Descendants that you can always count on George Clooney to be involved in movies with a lot of complexity, underlain by an equal measure of subtlety. In case you haven't seen the flick, Clooney is a too-busy husband and father. (Perhaps) as a result, his wife has an affair and her jones for daredevil outdoor stuff ends up putting her in a coma.

Clooney's two daughters are distraught by the family situation – as well as by their mom's condition, and Clooney has to find a way to pull the familial fragments together again. Then there's a land deal. Clooney is part of an old-time family of Hawaii's haoles (whites) who happened ages ago to have come into ownership of a massive, beautiful wedge of land on the island of Kaua'i. He's having to juggle this as he tries to make nice with the daughters and while he's trying to figure out the who, what, and how of avenging his wife's affair. In a sequence of events that might just as well have been devised for an episode of the old Seinfeld series, things work out – sort of.

And that's another trait of Clooney flicks – they're left somewhat open-ended.

I like Clooney, so I'm biased in favor of his performance. He's not a dramatist of the Al Pacino or Dustin Hoffman order; instead he acts from nuance, subtle changes in facial expression, a range of emotions that are always far from over the top. But he's a generous actor, too, as evinced by Beau Bridges, who plays a cousin and manages to upstage Clooney's character for a few minutes.

The scenery is to die for, the dialogue up and down. The script is adapted from a novel, which always seems to make for an unsatisfying movie. Papering over the many layers of a novel with Clooney's sort of subtlety can make a movie weak in places. The Descendants is being touted for an Oscar(s), so we'll have to see how the judges feel about subtlety and complexity in cinematizing Kaui Hart Hemmings' novel.


My rating: 16 of 20 stars


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