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Clooney manages chaos in'Descendants' (繼承人生)

Alexander Payne makes movies about men on the brink — of a nervous breakdown, of personal or professional ruin and, ultimately, maybe even some hard-earned peace. That was true of Matthew Broderick's scheming teacher in “Election,” Jack Nicholson's searching retiree in “About Schmidt” and Paul Giamatti's sloppy oenophile in “Sideways,” and it's certainly true of George Clooney in “The Descendants.”

As real-estate lawyer Matt King, he finds everything in his life is in flux and on the verge of collapse simultaneously. He is not just functioning one day at a time, he is navigating the chaos one hour at a time. This is not any easier even though he lives in Hawaii, a place that is supposed to be paradise.

Clooney being Clooney, though, he makes every stage of his character's arc believable, from grief through anger and eventual acceptance, and he gives a performance that is so understated as to appear effortless. Having long ago learned to jettison movie-star vanity to play varied, challenging parts, and having turned 50 this year, Clooney now seems comfortable portraying regular guys with regular problems. What Matt must endure cumulatively is extraordinary, but elements of his journey will surely resonate with ordinary folks.

Matt's wife, Elizabeth, is lying in a hospital bed in a coma following a boating accident. By all accounts, she has been a bit of a wild child her whole life, but now there is little hope that she is going to make it. Matt, who has not been the most available or hands-on father, must now take care of the couple's two daughters on his own: 17-year-old boarding school rebel Alexandra (Shailene Woodley) and 10-year-old troublemaker Scottie (Amara Miller).

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Alexander Payne makes movies about men on the brink — of a nervous breakdown, of personal or professional ruin and, ultimately, maybe even some hard-earned peace. That was true of Matthew Broderick's scheming teacher in “Election,” Jack Nicholson's searching retiree in “About Schmidt” and Paul Giama

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