Breaking Through at Toronto Film Festival

Sep 10, 2011 at 4:08 pm

After several days of technological dissonance, I've finally gained access to our blog. The logistical reasons for said dissonance are far too tedious to recount here, so I'll get right to it: I've seen 10 films over the last 60 hours, some good, some OK and none less than interesting. —-

Let's start with the good. The Descendants, Alexander Payne's first film since 2004's Sideways, is a droll delight, another slanted, deadpan comedy about the ways in which an everyday man's life can go terribly off course (see also the Payne men played by Paul Giamatti in Sideways, Jack Nicholson in About Schmidt and Matthew Broderick in Election). 

George Clooney is Matt King, a land baron and lawyer in Hawaii with a wife and two daughters, aged 17 and 10. Matt's situation changes radically when his wife is seriously injured in a boating accident, forcing him to interact with his daughters, which leads to a surprising revelation and more than a few awkward situations. Throw in another family issue — he's negotiating a multi-million-dollar real-estate deal that will impact not only his immediate and extended family but also his entire community — and Matt's life is at serious crossroads. 

Payne, who adapted Kaui Hart Hemmings' novel for the screen, generates unexpected emotional depth via a bevy of flawed characters. Much of the credit goes to Clooney, who gives a subtle, thoroughly convincing performance — possibly his best yet — as a guy trying to hold it together. Then there's Payne's deft use of Hawaii, a setting that has been oddly absent from the big screen and just another unique element in a film that's sure to generate plenty of awards-season love.