Clooney's best: 'Descendants' a four-star hit

The Descendants has a happy ending. Therefore technically it's a comedy. It takes place in the paradise of Hawaii. It stars George Clooney. That may lead you to expect a pleasant good time, but this film is so much more than that. This is one of Clooney's best performances, in the new film by Alexander Payne, who in Sideways and About Schmidt showed a special feeling for men learning to accept their better feelings.

The state of Hawaii is a co-star. I've been there many times, which only qualifies me as a tourist, but at more than 20 Hawaii Film Festivals I met so many people and went so many places that I began to understand how its people feel a love and protectiveness for the land, and how seriously they take its traditions. Much of the story here is about how Matt King (Clooney), a descendant of one of the first white landowning families, must decide whether to open up a vast tract of virgin forest on Kauai to tourist and condo development.

At the same time he faces a personal crisis. The film opens with his life-loving wife, Elizabeth (Patricia Hastie), in a boating accident off Waikiki Beach. Matt has been involved in land management; he holds the controlling share of his family's estate. Full review.

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