George Clooney, over time, has become one of my favorite actors. This is quite an accomplishment considering just six years ago I considered him just another Hollywood pretty boy with a convenient last name.


However, my position began changing with "Syriana" which led to his Oscar for Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role. I think it was the torture scene that did it. Pretty boy's generally don't like scenes where they are having their fingernails ripped out by a sadist. Clooney screamed very well.


He followed that up with an excellent turn in "The Good German" and then with a critically acclaimed performance in "Michael Clayton" in which he played the titular character. But what will keep him from reaching legendary status is his tendency to take roles in crap-o-rama flicks like "Oceans 12 and 13", "Leathernecks", and "The men Who Stare at Goats" (which was widely overrated). You just can't stick that many failures in between your successes and still be great. It doesn't work that way.

Now, he has strung together two well done films, "The Ides of March" and "The Descendants". "The Descendants" is going to make some noise at awards time.


Clooney plays Matt King, a well-to-do Hawaiian who happens to be benefactor of a trust that controls the last vast tract of unspoiled beachfront property in Hawaii. He is the executor of the estate which has several cousins as his co-benefactors.


Matt has been spending a great deal of time putting together a deal that will allow the trust to sell the property to some luck developer that will make King and his family extremely wealthy. This requires a lot of time and, during the course of working the deal, he has neglected his family. He is almost an absentee father. "The back-up parent" as he terms it.


While tending to business his wife (Patricia Hastie), is in a boating accident and falls into a coma. The prognosis is not good.

Now Matt has to do what he's not very good at, connecting with his two children Alexandra (Shailene Woodley) and Scottie (Amara Miller). Both kids a bratty, but Alexandra is particularly rebellious. She hates her mother because she knows that for quite a bit of time, her mother has been cheating on Matt. And Matt didn't have a clue.


So the film becomes one of a man trying to reconnect - rather connect - with his kids, a film about a man trying to find out who his vegetated wife was messing around with and finally, a film about a land baron deciding what to do with his land.


This would probably be pretty boring were it not for two things. 1) there is more to it than that and 2) Clooney is very believable.


In a film full of nobodies and has-beens, Clooney must carry the film. And the story had to be compelling enough to make him and his character interesting enough. Both things occur and we have a well directed, well cast film with a supporting cast that understands their roles and play them to their best ability. Director Alexander Payne ("Sideways", About Schmidt" and "Election") handles the actors well and translates Kaui Hart Hemmings novel marvelously.


In what is so far working out to be a relatively weak year for leading men (the strong category will be leading actresses), Clooney may have a shot at awards considerations. It's still a little early, but with Joseph Gordon Levitt being the only other viable actor, it should be wide open for Clooney to sneak in.


"The Descendants" is an outstanding film that takes an established, self assured main character and makes him vulnerable on every level. It's George Clooney practicing the craft of acting and holding court.   -- GEOFF BURTON