In various interviews, I’ve heard George Clooney say that his attraction to this project was in playing a character who didn’t have all the answers. The main character of ‘The Descendants’ is the anti-Danny Ocean so to speak. It’s a fine line for Clooney to walk on professionally; most actors will get jaded or resentful when they’re asked to play the same type of character over and over again; but being a ‘movie star’ is selling the audience on a ‘brand’, a persona that they know they’re getting no matter what movie you’re in or what story is being told (see Smith, Will).
George Clooney is the acting community’s movie star (see what I did there?) because he makes choices like this. In this case, playing a character who’s borderline unsympathetic. By Matt King’s own admission, he’s the ‘understudy’ parent. His wife has been having an affair and apparently Matt is the only one who is completely in the dark about it. His father in law doesn’t hide his disdain for him, blaming Matt for an accident to his ‘perfect and loyal’ daughter. The strength of Clooney’s performance in this film is in how with all of this thrown at him, you still do root for the guy. This isn’t a revenge or ‘overcoming the odds’ story.
In a film that takes its laid back tone from its Hawaiian backdrop, Matt King has several opportunities to ‘get back’ at those who have wronged him. But with two daughters who he’s now raising on his own, he makes the conscious decision to be the bigger man. Anger is natural, letting go and moving on are difficult, but (ideally) when you’re gone you want people to remember the good things that you did and not the mistakes that you made. And as an audience we get this not in a dramatic third act monologue, but as a progression. Clooney acts it out and we follow.
Like I said, the actor’s favorite movie star.