One of the reasons people will continue to talk about George Clooney's performance in the film The Descendants, is not just because of Clooney's Hollywood swagger. The role of Matt King in The Descendants is a unique gem of a performance, and Clooney nails the performance.
Matt King is one of my favorite characters in cinema that I have seen in awhile, and it's as much for what he doesn't say and doesn't do, versus what he says and does.
There is a subtleness to King, that Clooney is able to portray. I have to imagine that the novel for which the film is adapted, that King has this same subtlety, but somehow the words not spoken are easier to see in books sometimes than in film.
There are a number of scenes in this film from the beginning to the end where you can tell that King shows restraint, or is pondering two options for what he could communicate. I think of the scene's with his youngest daughter (Scottie King played by Amara Miller) when he holds back sharing sad or demeaning information about her mother's health or character. Similar restraint comes through in interactions with Matt's father-in-law (Scott Thorson played by Robert Forster), particularly at the end when his father makes some comments about his daughter's character that Matt could easily dismantle with his recent revelations. Yet he does not.
The times when King is loud and boisterous are limited (such as a scene when he is alone with his wife in the hospital, or with his wife's best friend Kai).
Matt King, although obviously having his own failings in allowing his work to displace his family, is able to still exhibit wisdom and make good decisions. In the midst of chaos, Matt King's keeps his head. He could go off the deep end and discredit himself, or even dishonor his wife, but instead he let's truth work itself out, and makes the best decisions that he personally can make, rather than depending on other's to make the right choice. Instead of blaming others he makes the best choices he can, and allows an awful situation to still have it's own redemption.