Nov 21, 2014

Review: Nebraska (2013)

Alexander Payne has got to be one of the most consistent directors in the business. Excluding the few things he's directed and written before 1999, he's directed some really good films that all deserve recognition. I've noticed that a lot of them have to do with traveling and road trips and I suppose that's his way of having his characters embark on personal journeys of self-exploration. I can count About Schmidt, Sideways and Nebraska as part of this pattern. It's important to note that Payne didn't actually write Nebraska and he apparently didn't want direct the film right after Sideways because of that similarity.

With Nebraska, Alexander Payne has made the choice to film everything in black and white, despite studio opposition. B&W always seems to be a controversial thing for people these days and it has no business being. Movies filmed in black and white always seem to be automatically associated with boring which is dead wrong. That's how you miss out on gems like Nebraska. From a business standpoint, the studio probably wasn't wrong though. I bet that the decision to do black and white is probably why Nebraska only made a little over $17 million worldwide.


Genre: comedy, drama
Directed by: Alexander Payne
Produced by: Albert Berger, Ron Yerxa, Doug Mankoff, etc.
Written by: Bob Nelson
Music by: Mark Orton
Running time: 115 minutes
Production company: Paramount Vantage, FilmNation Entertainment, Blue Lake Media Fund, etc.
Distributed by: Paramount Vantage, Diaphana Films, Longride, etc.
Country: United States
Language: English
Budget: $12,000,000
Box office: $17,654,912 (Worldwide)

IMDb entry
Rotten Tomatoes entry

Starring: Bruce Dern, Will Forte, June Squibb, Bob Odenkirk, Stacy Keach, Mary Louise Wilson, Rance Howard, Tim Driscoll, Devin Ratray, Angela McEwan, Glendora Stitt, Elizabeth Moore, Kevin Kunkel, Dennis McCoig, Ronald Vosta, Missy Doty, John Reynolds



Crotchety old man Woody Grant (Bruce Dern) is convinced that he's won $1 million from a letter he received in the mail. It's nothing more than a marketing scam and despite everyone from his wife (June Squibb) to his two sons (Will Forte and Bob Odenkirk) telling him so, he attempts to walk the 900 miles that separate Billings, Montana and Lincoln, Nebraska. His son David is going through some troubles of his own and decides to take pity on his father. He sees the trip as an opportunity to escape Billings for a while and also get some personal time with his father Woody.


As the opening credits roll, you know that Nebraska is going to be a patient film. This is one of the rare times that Alexander Payne is directing a movie where he didn't write the script, but everything seems to mesh together so nicely that you would think that he did. Nebraska pulls at the heartstrings when it should and the comedy is absolute gold. It helps that Alexander Payne is able to draw forth the best of every single actor that's been cast, literally squeezing every last bit of acting talent.

Bruce Dern was nominated for a lot of awards as Woody Grant, he won some and it was all very well deserved. He's a funny character and he's what you'd expect an old alcoholic to be like as he approaches the end of his life. That in itself also makes Woody a very sad character. Bruce Dern all the same keeps everything very balanced with a very strong sense of comedic timing. Without a doubt this is one of the best performances of 2013.

Dern is well backed up with the likes of Will Forte, June Squibb and Bob Odenkirk. Will Forte is an SNL alumnus and you would never know. He's of course funny, but he acts like a real person instead of a comedian acting like a real person. I pretty much only know June Squibb from About Schmidt but wow does she ever give a sharp performance here. I could go on about the good performances from even actors in secondary roles but there would be too much to say. Nebraska is simply a well-oiled machine when it comes to acting, with everyone doing their part and more.

So like I had said before, Nebraska is a road movie. Both David and Woody have their reasons for wanting to go to Lincoln and we get some really good character exposition of both characters during their trip. (Spoilers) Woody has a dark past of drinking and infidelity and all he wants to do is make up for his mistakes by leaving his sons some money when he dies. David on the other hand pretty much just exists rather than living. His girlfriend of two years broke up with him and he's working in a dead end job selling electronics. So a trip to Lincoln sounds like a nice escape. (End Spoilers)

As a viewer, we get treated to some really well executed family drama bits regarding things like hidden pasts and circling vultures looking to take advantage of a situation. It's a movie that makes you hate and love humanity by showing the best of both sides. Nebraska is bittersweet as a whole and I'll definitely take that over straight up downer. After all, this is the kind of thing that Alexander Payne does best.

I still have quite a lot of 2013 award winners/nominated films to watch and I'm curious as to how they'll stack up to Nebraska. I think it's Alexander Payne strongest movie and I wasn't really expecting that. With a powerhouse performance from Bruce Dern and a really well written script, it's a testament to the great year 2013 was for cinema as a whole.  



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