Nebraska – Movie Review
By Anne Brodie Dec 3, 2013, 13:22 GMT
An aging, booze-addled father makes the trip from Montana to Nebraska with his estranged son in order to claim a million dollar Mega Sweepstakes Marketing prize. ...more
Nebraska, the home state of director Alexander Payne seems somehow lost in time in this deeply evocative black and white character study. It’s from another era although it’s set today; the world is non-digital, there may not be a cell phone in the whole film, and planted on the ground. The timelessness of the wide, empty, all sky terrain is unrelenting and majestic.
It’s within that massive and sometimes oppressive space that the humans act out their ages old dramas, concerning family, judgment, petty grudges, and things left unsaid and undone and the shifting balance as parents age. These become tiny concerns that will flame out leaving the landscape unchanged. It is weighty, the human drama, but seems a little funny and pathetic in that place.
Bruce Dern brilliantly plays Woody Grant, an ageing, hard drinking, poverty stricken husband and father who receives a letter in the mail informing him he may have won $1M. He decides to walk from Billings, Montana to the Lincoln, Nebraska sweepstakes office and pick up his fortune. The act seems to be a combination of dementia and old fashioned will.
His youngest son David (Will Forte) has lost his girlfriend in a go-nowhere job as a TV salesman. So when he sees his father won’t be dissuaded from his sojourn, decides to drive him there. He knows there is no million dollar prize, but wants to spend some time with his remote, silent father who is physically and mentally deteriorating. They never had a loving relationship and this may bring them together. There’s lot of hidden anger and frustration between them but Forte’s superlative and subtle performance tells us how much he loves his dad.
They drive via Hawthorne, the Grant’s hometown where old issues arise and evil fat cousins vaguely threaten not just the Billings Grants but the order of things. Woody in his senility has told the town he’s a millionaire and soon enough the vultures start coming around looking for cash. He’s always been a sucker, an easy mark.
Payne uses wonderful character actors like Ron Howard’s dad Rance as his Woody’s low energy, couch-sittin’ cousin, Angela McEwan as the local newspaper woman who still pines for Woody after fifty years and the Mexicans operating the auto body shop in the middle of Nebraska badlands.
But the greatest treat is the foul-mouthed graveside rant of June Squibb as the elderly Kate Grant. She gives the entire town hell in a dance of lewd revenge. Comic actor and writer Bob Odenkirk, Woody’s eldest son, has a nice transformation through his father’s journey.
The film brings to mind the sadness and decay of The Last Picture Show set in a similarly vast, empty small town canvas in black and white. There’s wistfulness under the action, a sense of isolation that runs through. It’s hard to find that kind of old fashioned realism now. Filmmakers have to commit to the outer reaches to get that feeling across.
Nebraska is a beautiful road movie on every level. Payne’s skill as a director and observer has grown so much. This film inhabits the same esoteric space of No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood. Thanks God someone’s still making pictures like that.
35mm B&W drama
Written by Bob Nelson
Directed by Alexander Payne
Opens: Nov 15
MPAA: Rated R for some language
Runtime: 115 minutes