Sometimes, whenever there’s a massive influx of big budget blockbusters all at once, you need something a lot smaller and more personal as a bit of a breather. In this current season of blockbusters that film is Alexander Payne’s Nebraska. Honestly, when I heard the premise and saw the early trailers I wasn’t really that interested, it just looked a bit boring to me but I decided to check it out based on the overwhelmingly positive reviews and I’m glad I did. Nebraska is a very funny, touching film with incredible acting, especially from Bruce Dern.
The plot of the film concerns Woody Grant, an elderly alcoholic who receives a scam letter telling him that he’s won a million dollars. Believing the letter to be true, Woody repeatedly tries to go to Lincoln, Nebraska from Billings, Montana (a distance of around 800 miles) and after these attempts fail, one of his sons, David, agrees to take him so Woody doesn’t end up killing himself. After a series of events, they wind up back in the town they grew up in and the people there eventually find out that Woody thinks he’s a millionaire. What I love about the plot is that it’s clear that the journey for the money is not for the money, it’s an emotional journey for Woody. He’s had nothing to really live for throughout his life, seeing a constant stream of bad luck, and the letter gives him some hope for the first time in a while. This also allows Woody and David to have some sense of reconciliation considering the poor relationship that they’ve had in the past. This stuff leads up to a really touching ending for the two characters.
A major factor for the success of the film is the acting. Bruce Dern is incredible as Woody. Throughout the film, Dern gives us a sense of depression in the character, that something went seriously wrong with him in the past, and you can’t help but feel sorry for him. He also gets a lot of really funny moments related to his alcoholism and his confusion about certain events, mainly in the second half of the film. As David, Will Forte also gives a great performance, you see his frustration with Woody numerous times in the film but you also know that he has issues in his life, which is why he agrees to take Woody to Nebraksa, and the reconnection between David and Woody is excellently played by Dern and Forte. June Squibb as Kate, Woody’s wife, is hilarious, she gets all the best lines and moments in the film and Squibb is clearly having a lot of fun with some of the stuff she does in the film. Bob Odenkirk is good as Ross, Woody’s other son, who is much more successful that David in a professional and personal level and as such, he doesn’t take the same stance as David towards the journey, but there is still a lot of affection in Odenkirk’s performance towards the other characters, especially near the end of the film. The other characters in Woody’s hometown are brilliantly acted. All of them giving a sense of pride over having someone successful coming from the town, a sense of regret that they didn’t really make anything of their lives and some great moments regarding their relationships with Woody. Special mention has to go to Stacy Keach as Ed Pegram who gives a really creepy performance later on in the film when he finds out about Woody’s money, threatening Woody and David with legal action if he doesn’t get some, and to Devin Ratray and Tim Driscoll as Cole and Bart, David’s cousins who show just how bad someone’s life could be without any prospects, with a sense of threat throughout their performance that gives you the impression that they did something bad and were willing to do anything to get some of the money, from flattery to threats to physical violence.
On a technical side, the film is great. The black and white cinematography is gorgeous, lending the old fashioned vibe to the film which aids the characters. Alexander Payne’s direction and Bob Nelson’s script are excellent, making great use of the locations of Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska along with getting some excellent work from all the actors. The locations themselves give a great sense of isolation that helps inform the motivations of all the characters.
Overall, Nebraska is an excellent film. The performances and script are excellent throughout, the film is consistently funny and touching (I nearly ended up crying by the end) and the black and white look is incredible. It looks likely that most UK cinemas won’t be showing Nebraska after this week but if you can, go and see this film.
My Rating: 5/5