Nebraska (M)

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Review byMatthew Turner11/10/2013

Four out of Five stars
Running time: 110 mins

Beautifully shot and superbly written, the latest film from Alexander Payne is an engaging, bittersweet drama with a terrific central performance from Bruce Dern that merits some awards attention.

What's it all about?
Directed by Alexander Payne and shot in black and white, Nebraska stars Bruce Dern as aging, grumpy, forgetful ex-boozer Woody Grant, who's fixated on travelling from Billings, Montana to Lincoln, Nebraska because a leaflet from a sweepstake company has convinced him he's won $1 million. After multiple attempts to convince him that the leaflet is a scam, his adult son David (Will Forte) agrees to drive him the 850 miles, partly because he just wants to spend time with his dad.

When Woody injures himself on the journey, they stop over in his home town of Hawthorne, Nebraska and visit his estranged family, including his brother Ray (Rance Howard) and Ray's overweight, layabout sons (Tim Driscoll and Devin Ratray) – they're also joined by Woody's constantly complaining wife Kate (June Squibb) and David's older brother Ross (Breaking Bad's Bob Odenkirk), who travel up from Billings. However, when word gets about that Woody is a millionaire-in-waiting, family and acquaintances start hitting him up for money, not least Woody's conniving old business partner Ed Pegram (Stacey Keach).

The Good
Bruce Dern is terrific as Woody, delivering a quietly moving performance as a not always likeable grouch who belatedly decides he wants to do something for his family – if there's any justice, the role should net him a Best Supporting Actor nomination come Oscar time. Will Forte (a Saturday Night Live regular, best known here as the star of MacGruber) is equally good as kind-hearted David and underplays it beautifully, while there's sterling support from Odenkirk, Keach and a scene-stealing Squibb as Kate – her no-holds-barred running commentary on the various occupants of the Hawthorne graveyard is priceless.

The bittersweet script is excellent, painting a none-too-positive view of America's supposed heartland – not only has the recession hit hard, but the men in general struggle to communicate (or can only talk about cars – same thing) and the town doesn't seem to have a single young person left in it. Even an iconic piece of Americana like Mount Rushmore proves disappointing: David is eager to see it and takes a detour to get there, but Woody dismisses it as looking “unfinished” and it's hard not to see his point.

The Great
As with The Descendants, Payne's affinity for the warmth and humanity of his characters is palpable and there are some wonderful moments, particularly towards the end of the film. In addition, the black and white photography (pointedly recalling Bogdanovich's The Last Picture Show) is gorgeous, courtesy of Payne's regular cinematographer Phedon Papamichael and there's a great guitar-based score by Mark Orton.

Worth seeing?
Observantly directed and laced with bittersweet humour, Nebraska is an engaging and enjoyable drama with gorgeous black and white photography, a superbly written script and a terrific performance from Bruce Dern. Highly recommended.

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Nebraska (M)
Nebraska has been reviewed by 1 users
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Content updated: 22/02/2019 17:25

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