Nebraska - Review

Nebraska, the latest film from Alexander Payne (Sideways, The Descendants), is akin to wandering around a quiet art gallery, sipping a coffee and just letting the pieces wash over you. It’s a beautifully crafted tale that left me quite moved by its simplistic good-natured themes and realistic down-to-earth performances. This is a special little film that I really hope you’ll make time to go out and see.

Woody Grant (Bruce Dern) is a millionaire, or so says the letter he has just received from a sweepstakes company. All he has to do is head a few thousand miles across the country to pick up his winnings and come hell or highwater he’s getting his money. Woody’s family are more than a little concerned about his mental wellbeing because they know the sweeps are a scam preying on the gullible. Woody’s wife Kate (June Squib) is at her wits' end, since every time she turns her back, Woody takes off on foot to claim his prize. Eventually Woody’s son David (Will Forte) decides to drive his father to Nebraska, resulting in a chance for the two to spend some good ol father and son time together with mixed results.  

Set in the Midwest of America and presented in black and white, Director Alexander Payne paints a bleak portrait of what has become of the heartland of America, devastated by economic changes and seemingly being left well behind the rest of the country. Shooting the film in black in white had a transformative effect; in that it felt as though I was able to see the Midwest in all its glory, like looking at a photo of my grandparents when they were children. The sweeping shots of the countryside give way to images of people and buildings both clinging tightly to yesteryear. I enjoyed the shots of the landscapes as they were reminiscent of the works by Ansel Adams.

Without doubt this is Bruce Dern's show. The veteran character actor imbues Woody Grant with a beautiful mix of stubbornness and apathy yet somehow tempers him with moments of genuine feeling. I thoroughly enjoyed watching Woody come in and out of conversations, choosing when to care and when to suddenly switch off. Will Forte is fantastic as David, a man struggling with his own issues but still full of compassion for his father. Forte is known mostly for his comedic chops but here he really impressed me with his ability to land the dramatic punches. June Squib is the grandmother we all wished we had; she swears, gossips and protects her family, although she is a little too willing to share the gory details of her sexual conquests. Just as he did in last years Spectacular Now, Bob Odenkirk has a small but impactful role as Woody’s other son.

The film tackles so many issues whilst maintaining a fairly straightforward narrative. This has long been a strength of Payne as a storyteller: he keeps his stories simple yet populates them with complex characters. These types of films aren’t being made often enough for my liking - smaller scale productions which have a lot to say about the world. In the big bad world of corporate film making I’m so happy that these little gems make their way through to us.

This is a gorgeous film for any one who wants to run away with some uber-talented character actors for a few hours. It’s full of laughs yet has its share of quieter moments which will surprise you. Nebraska is another reason why 2014 is one of the strongest years for cinema that we’ve been blessed with for quite some time. Don’t let this one pass you by.

Nebraska is in select theatres now, if you see the film and agree or disagree with my thoughts feel free to drop a line below.

- Stu


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