Nebraska

Alexander Payne is the compassionate, thinking face of American comedy. With films like 'Sideways' and 'The Descendants', he tells laidback tales of people facing problems or changes in their lives. His new film 'Nebraska' is shot in black and white and takes the name of his home state as its title. It's an intimate road movie about one family, yet it also lingers on the landscapes and fabric of an old-time, dying vision of the American Midwest.

There's a wistful air of time passed and chances lost as Payne tells of a quiet but irascible elderly man, Woody (Bruce Dern), a retired mechanic, taken on an interstate trip to his small, fading Nebraskan hometown by his patient son, David (Will Forte), who sells stereos in the suburbs. Their journey is part of a wild goose chase to collect some non-existent prize money which Woody insists he's owed after receiving a scam letter. His snappy wife, Kate (June Squibb), has long since stopped listening to – but not loving – him. 'I never knew the son of a bitch wanted to be a millionaire,' she barks. The promise of riches sends the heads of some old friends and family into a spin and shows their true colours. But David, and Woody's other son Ross (Bob Odenkirk), do their best to humour a dad who hasn't been much of a father to them.

The film's laughs are as low-key as Payne's reflective but straight-shooting style of storytelling, and there's a fair amount of sadness. There's a last-minute dash for warmth, too, but mostly 'Nebraska' is fairly blunt about family relationships and friendships, while preserving the possibility that neither are necessarily bad for you and never getting too tragic or maudlin. One of the poignant questions that hangs over the film is whether Woody, played with real unshowiness by veteran character actor Dern, is going senile or is depressed, neither of which possibilities are helped by his lingering alcoholism.

What's driving Woody to go on this trip? Does he believe the letter? Or is it a last-minute desire on his part, however deeply buried behind his inexpressive exterior, to squeeze something else out of a not exactly perfect life? 'Nebraska' doesn't suggest any trite answers to any of this. It's also pleasingly free of nostalgia, even if the past hangs heavily over Bob Wilson's well calculated, often moving screenplay, and there's definitely a suggestion that the world has got harder, meaner: 'He just believes stuff that people tell him,' David says of his old dad. It's often funny, too, in a deadpan, gallows-humour sort of way, and more than ever Payne allows the humour to rise up gently from his story rather than burst through it.

Release details

Release date: Friday December 6 2013
Duration: 110 mins

Cast and crew

Director: Alexander Payne
Screenwriter: Bob Nelson
Cast: Bob Odenkirk
Bruce Dern
Stacy Keach
Will Forte
June Squibb

Average User Rating

3.9 / 5

Rating Breakdown

  • 5 star:2
  • 4 star:4
  • 3 star:1
  • 2 star:0
  • 1 star:0
LiveReviews|10
1 person listening
kp

Alexander Payne is so underrated and understated - I love his work and this is another little gem. Funny , insightful, beautifully scored and photographed (Black & white has never looked so good since Woody Allen’s ‘Manhattan’) there is a dreamy feel to the whole film. Wonderful performances from every single member of the cast with Bruce Dern just outstanding. Even 110 mins felt way too short - I could have easily sat through another hour of such high quality work. For me, one of the finest films of the last decade and certainly the best one I’ve seen this past year.

Kafantaris

[Bruce Dern] "has the guts to let Woody be Woody, and to allow us to come to him, or not. As Woody himself might put it, 'Doesn’t matter.' At 76, Dern finally gets to be the leading man he’s long deserved to be, filling “Nebraska’s” wide open spaces with a performance of subtlety, bittersweetness and surpassing emotional courage. And he’s created a character every bit as iconic as his painterly alter-ego, one who eloquently embodies the anxieties, thwarted aspirations and stubborn tenacity of a rural middle class facing inexorable decline. He’s made an 'American Gothic' for 21st-century, post-recession America." -- Ann Hornaday

Kafantaris

[Bruce Dern] "has the guts to let Woody be Woody, and to allow us to come to him, or not. As Woody himself might put it, 'Doesn’t matter.' At 76, Dern finally gets to be the leading man he’s long deserved to be, filling “Nebraska’s” wide open spaces with a performance of subtlety, bittersweetness and surpassing emotional courage. And he’s created a character every bit as iconic as his painterly alter-ego, one who eloquently embodies the anxieties, thwarted aspirations and stubborn tenacity of a rural middle class facing inexorable decline. He’s made an 'American Gothic' for 21st-century, post-recession America." -- Ann Hornaday

Chris

A bit slow to start but a great film, thoroughly enjoyed the storyline, and great acting throughout.

Chris

A bit slow to start but a great film, thoroughly enjoyed the storyline, and great acting throughout.

john o sullivan

Definitely one of the best of the year All elements work acting, writing and direction Could possibly be a5 star if isle it again

oddingle

One of my films of the year. I don't know what it is that makes black and white photography so appropriate for capturing the wide open spaces of the States, but for me it is up there with "Hud" or "The Last Picture Show", both also elegies for vital qualities that have been undermined or lost. This is both gentle but tough, unpretentious but wise. Payne directs with exactly the right touch, allowing the film to unfold in a way that seems relaxed and natural, but was probably achieved by rigorous attention to detail. Most of all, for general audiences, it is often laugh out loud funny. In fact so-called comedies have often left me stony faced. The comedy is achieved not because we are laughing AT the characters, but rather because we love them and can empathise with them. The single criticism is that the two cousins are at times made to be more oafish than they need to be, and verge on caricature. This is a minor quibble. See this before it vanishes under the plethora of Christmas blockbusters. It really is worth it.

critique

Like watching a 70s movie with its slow pace, choice of black and white, Bruce Dern and unique mood. A bittersweet drama sprinkled with moments of humour.

david glowacki

was surprised just how good this film is.The humour and pathos of this film is quite moving.There is no-one remotely attractive in the cast,it is full of strange looking redneck Americans living in semi wilderness.Everyone is poverty stricken.The sadness of old age is there, as is the regrets of past memories, and the desperation of the son to heal the wounds of his father's past life.The acting is brilliant even with the bit part actors with the sunburnt aged faces.The fathers grumpy reticence is counters by his truculent wife,who never has a good word for anybody with her vicious put downs,which is at times laugh out loud funny.A funny sad and moving film about the sheer desperate meanderings of life and old age.

Lizzie Thynne

A gentle, beautifully photographed film - the best I have seen about a father and son relationship. The son's patience, exasperation and love in trying to humour his declining father by taking him on a wild goose chase across the stark, flat landscapes of the Mid West to claim some mythical prize money will strike chords with anyone who has cared for an elderley relative. The father's emotional incapacity and stubborness coupled with his fragility is finely played by Bruce Dern and Will Forte as the long suffering son whose own humdrum life is of no interest to his self-absorbed dad is also a delight. The ability of our parents to enbarass us even at middle age is well captued when David ( Forte's) mother regales them with tales of how several men in their home town wanted to get into 'her bloomers' and insists on lifting her skirt at one of her past suitors' graves to show him what he missed. David's persistence in trying to grant his Dad his humble desires despite the inevitable absence of prize noney and thus poke two fingers at his home town former cronies who have written him off, is touching and enteraining enables a small triumph; act of tenderness which makes this film quietly memorable in underlining the need for small but significant acts of human kindness.