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Review: Nebraska – An incredibly entertaining journey

Posted by on November 22, 2013 – 7:45 am

Nebraska No, this film has nothing to do with Bruce Springsteen’s 1982 record, Nebraska, although they are similar in that Springsteen’s album cover photo is a cold black and white landscape of “the cornhusker state,” as is most of the imagery in this movie; and the record’s music tells tales about the dark realities of the American dream, as does this film’s story – albeit told in a much more humorous manner.

I love a good road-trip movie and Nebraska is one of the best I’ve ever seen. I also admire the road-trip film resume of director Alexander Payne, and this is one of his finest works yet. Like his movies Sideways and About Schmidt, this story depicts honest characters in real-life situations that are often heart-breaking and hilarious at the same time, making for an incredibly entertaining journey.

Payne usually writes his own material, but for Nebraska the excellent original screenplay was provided by Bob Nelson and tells the simple story of a stubborn old man, Woody Grant, who is convinced he has won a magazine sweepstakes for a million dollars and is determined to go from Billings, Montana to Lincoln, Nebraska, in order to claim his prize.

The problem is that the old geezer can’t drive anymore and his family refuses to help because they all know that the sweepstakes letter he received is a scam. But eventually Woody’s youngest son, David (Will Forte), decides to take his father on the trip and looks at it as an opportunity to learn more about his Dad, who he only knows as an alcoholic and a man of few words.

NebraskaAlong the way the father and son run into family and friends they haven’t seen in years, and David discovers many of the old man’s secrets, both good and bad. While stopped for a weekend in Woody’s hometown, the pair is joined by his older son, Ross (Bob Odenkirk from Breaking Bad), and his no-nonsense wife, Kate (June Squibb), who steals the show in almost every scene she is in.

Although you never really learn to like Woody very much, you do begin to understand him and sympathize with his character. This movie definitely makes you look at your crazy older relatives in a different light and forces a realization that they have all probably lived lives that you really know very little about. Anyone who has ever felt estranged from their parents will certainly relate to this film, as will anyone who has ever lived in a small American town.

This is the first time I have seen comedian Will Forte (MacGruber) in a serious role and he does a great job in this film, as does the entire cast which also includes Stacy Keach as Woody’s old business partner, Ed Pegram, and Rance Howard (Ron Howard’s Dad) as Woody’s older brother, Ray.

NebraskaDern delivers, maybe, the best performance of his career and will be a strong Oscar contender come next year’s awards show. He is perfectly cast as the bullheaded and cantankerous old man with the onset of dementia, and June Squibb as his wife is also bound to be in the running for an Academy Award.

The black & white cinematography in this film, by Phedon Papamichael, is also amazing; with each shot looking as if it were an Ansel Adams photograph come to life. This would be a completely different film if the story had been told in color as the contrast in the beautiful visuals of this film perfectly complements the gray areas explored in the characters’ lives.

Not only does this movie take a serious look at old age, honesty and loyalty, and adult parent and child relationships – it’s also extremely funny and aesthetically amazing. Like Payne’s other road pictures, this film is destined to become an American classic. Nebraska is one of my favorite films of this past year and is highly recommended. Grade: 9/10

Photos © 2013 Paramount Vantage