Of course it was probably with ‘Ocean’s Eleven‘ that he started on the particular trajectory to 21st century leading man/ rockstar position where he blends humour with a widely-spoofed Parkinson’s kind of nodding head when he’s delivering one-liners in that self-deprecating way of his, and a solidity and moral core (both in movies and off) that we continuously admire. He is that man in ‘The Descendants‘; he is the father who pays no attention to his children, imagining they will grow with or without him; the husband who has allowed himself to love his wife in a peripheral way, forgetting that love is hard work; the businessman who loses sight of the main thrust in successful men the world over – the desire to leave a legacy. But he evolves. He looks around, and inward, and while there are no Hallelujah! moments, no dramatic scenes with a stunning denouement, ‘The Descendants‘ is a quiet unfurling of real life and how we sometimes find redemption when we don’t even know we’re looking for it.
He then takes his daughters on an ostensible holiday where his real aim is to meet his wife’s lover. It’s a pivotal scene, he connects with his daughter in their united front against the lover who turns out to be a decent-enough man who simply does what not-quite-decent-enough men do. Matt then makes a decision on his business that reflects his understanding, for the first time, of the world around him.
In the movies, there is always one scene that screams Oscar. With Halle Berry it was when she talked about her fat son (‘Monster’s Ball’); with Nicolas Cage it was explaining his drinking in (‘Leaving Las Vegas’); with Al Pacino it was the way his eyes darted before firing his first kill shot in the restaurant scene (‘The Godfather’). With Clooney, it’s as he bends over his dying wife and says “Goodbye, my love….my pain…” He is banked-down mournful while he whispers the words (it’s not a classic movie line but Clooney makes it so), words that must surely reflect the duality inherent in all relationships since we first climbed out of the primordial swamp and started looking at each other.
Of course actors are only as good as their directors and this cast was lucky to have Alexander Payne (‘Sideways‘, ‘About Schmidt‘) who has presented virtual unknown Shailene Woodley playing the elder daughter and Matthew ‘Shaggy’ Lillard as the lover in a way that will never allow them to go unnoticed again.
Aside: There is only one actor who never has a single scene we remember him by but carries the whole movie like an Olympic runner holding the symbolic torch, and that is Leo DiCaprio. Other actors stay in their trailers running through a scene, but DiCaprio is rumoured to kid around on set until the director says ‘Action!’ – when he suddenly turns into someone else. For more ordinary mortals, directors are key. As for the actor-director, that’s another story.
The reason why DiCaprio has not been nominated for J Edgar this year is because he doesn’t make nice in Hollywood and to win the Oscar you often need to be either politically correct or popular. Of course, movie fans don’t give a damn who wins. For an actor to create a hush in us until the beginning to the end of whichever movie he is in, now that’s a legacy, the importance of which both George Clooney and Matt King discovered.
Sheba Thayil is a journalist and writer. She was born in Bombay, brought up in Hong Kong, and exiled to Bangalore. While editing, writing and working in varied places like The Economic Times, Gulf Daily News, New Indian Express andCosmopolitan, it is the movies and books, she says, that have always sustained her. She blogs athttp://shebathayil.blogspot.com/