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Clooney works hard for The Descendants 

Director Alexander Payne does well by his leading man

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Too many filmmakers stick George Clooney in underwritten parts and hope his charisma will fill the holes (Jason Reitman, Steven Soderbergh and the Coens: you should know better). But Alexander Payne returns seven years after Sideways with a piece that makes Clooney work for once. In The Descendants he’s Matt King, whose wife is in a coma, forcing him to become a hands-on parent to his two girls (Shailene Woodley and Amara King) while acting as trustee for family land about to sell to the highest bidder. Then he finds out his wife was cheating. The film’s Honoloulu setting makes for a naturally beautiful movie, but Payne aims to show the non-tourist, working class side of the city (tempered by the protagonist being rich already), where people make deals in flip-flops. For all of Clooney’s coasting modes---arrogant, smug, debonair---it appears he’s at his best when hapless and floundering. It looks good on him.

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