Alexander Payne is a director who does “low-key” very well. His previous work, such as the George Clooney fronted “The Descendants” or the Jack Nicholson fronted “About Schmidt” proved that Payne was a subtle and composed filmmaker, allowing the performances on screen to do the work as he let the camera lens rest on his subjects in order to bring about a realism that can often be missing from Hollywood. I was excited when I heard about Nebraska and my interest only grew as it became a critically acclaimed film that was nominated for academy awards and other honours. I decided, however, to wait until the dust settled before watching the film, and I finally got around to it recently.
Bruce Dern, as well as Payne himself, drew me to the film. I’ve liked Dern since seeing him in Silent Running, one of my favourite science fiction films from the 70’s, and The ‘Burbs, a horror-comedy from the 80’s with Tom Hanks in the lead. I am now more familiar with Dern’s body of work, but those two films will always stand out to me, and now, after seeing this film, so will Nebraska.
Meet Woody (Dern), an elderly man with a penchant for alcohol and a letter in his shirt pocket that tells him that he has won a million dollars. Determined to claim his prize, Woody attempts to walk to Lincoln, Nebraska, but is stopped by his sons and his wife who insist that the letter is a con and he hasn’t won a thing. Refusing to listen to the pleas of his family, Woody asks his younger son, David (Will Forte) to drive him to Lincoln so he can pick up his fortune. David, feeling sympathy for his father, agrees, and the two set off on a road trip from Montana to Lincoln. During their trip they are forced to make a stop in central Nebraska to visit family, and this reveals a past that Woody had left behind long ago, and people he hadn’t seen in years. Intending to claim his prize, and with people coming out of the woodwork asking for a hand-out, David and his older brother Ross (Bob Odenkirk) and their mother Kate (June Squibb), along with Woody, reconnect with one another as well as their pasts.
It’s a road movie, it’s a touching drama about family, it’s a life lesson about deceit and the haunting nature of regret and it’s a comedy film. Nebraska is so many things, all at once, yet in such a simplistic and reverent manner that is just flows like a quiet river as we watch the story unfold. Beautiful music, gorgeous cinematography and amazing performances from the cast, especially Squibb and Dern, this was one of those films that I was sad to see end, but also excited about having the chance to watch again. Both moving and laugh-out-loud funny, with moments that truly pull on the old heart-strings, I was not disappointed by this film at all, and I feel like this is undoubtedly Alexander Payne’s most accomplished film yet, with exceptional writing and an iconoclastic visual style.
I urge you to see this film, and I defy you not to be absorbed by its nature.