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Sunday, February 16, 2014

Nebraska 2013 * * * 1/2 Stars

NebraskaDirector: Alexander Payne
Year: 2013
Rated R
Rating: * * * 1/2 Stars     Cole's Rating: * * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Bruce Dern, Will Forte, June Squibb

Alexander Payne is a director who never forgot where he came from. I mean, why else would he shoot most of his movies in the state of Nebraska. He likes to make flicks about real people. He also likes to make flicks about people who look like real people, act like real people, and live in boring, realistic places. He does all of this while being totally beloved by the Academy. He's been nominated three times for best director (a list that includes the film I'm reviewing) and doesn't go for the jugular. He doesn't need special effects, shock value, gaudy camerawork, or beautiful Hollywood types to get his point across. No Payne is a good ol' fashioned filmmaker and with Nebraska, he provides another good ol' fashioned film going experience. With this November of 2013 release, he shoots everything in black and white. I'm not exactly sure why he does it nor do I wanna know the reason (I want it to be a mystery). But it doesn't matter though because frankly, it just works.

Also, as with his other triumphant trysts in the world of cinema (Sideways and About Schmidt being my personal favorites next to this one), Nebraska is yet another road trip movie. And I believe that Payne thinks of this as his comfort zone when it comes to fortifying his vision. In truth, I'm 100% on board with said vision.

Penned by a first time screenwriter (Bob Nelson) and featuring characters who's lives are non-enriched, bleak, and not entirely promising (the black and white hue I feel, echos a lot of this), Nebraska tells the tale of Billings, Montana resident Woody Grant (Bruce Dern). He's I guess a retired mechanic, an on-again, off- again alcoholic, and a distant father to his two sons (David Grant played by Will Forte and Ross Grant played by Bob Odenkirk). When he finds out that he might have won a million dollars (through a letter that might be a scam), he is then bent on going to Lincoln, Nebraska to pick up his so-called winnings. Since his wife (played by June Squibb) won't drive him to Lincoln, he aids the help of his youngest son to get him there (Woody is forbidden to drive and it would take forever to walk 700 plus miles). As a road trip ensues, the rest of the Grant family eventually meets up (the older brother and mother take a bus instead) and rekindles their family history with their other relatives who live in the small town of Hawthorne, Nebraska. When these other relatives (certain people who are not part of the immediate family) find out that Woody is about to become rich, they want a piece of his winnings because well, he owes them some sort of prolonged debt.

Now as much as I liked the middle American vibe I got from Nebraska, I couldn't quite render it a four star rating. The film's only oversight might be a few scenes that drag and a couple of other scenes that mainly just feel like filler. The scenes that drag almost bring the two hour running time to a screeching halt. The scenes that act as filler are examples like Woody and his brothers watching football games and hardly saying a word to each other. I could do without the irreverence of those tidbits. But honestly, this flick as a whole doesn't really suffer from what I just mentioned. The audience with a keen sense of patience, will embrace what's on screen anyway.

The cast of Nebraska, (which consists of knowns and unknowns), comes up aces all around. Bruce Dern plays Grant with a low key stubbornness. He does a lot of reacting and doesn't go over the top. His performance as a comatose senior citizen, is Oscar worthy because at 77 years old, it doesn't feel like he's even acting. His style is so unassuming and it is so in the moment. To be honest, I haven't seen much of Dern's work but I know that he's been in the AEA union since the early sixties. That's gotta say something. Will Forte, who usually goes for the funny and plays goofballs (like in the little seen McGruber and some SNL stuff), is something of a revelation here. His David Grant is sort of a long lost daddy's boy who sees this road trip as a way to spend more time with his dad, and get to know more about what makes him tick. Forte, who matches Dern scene for scene, plays it serious with a level of disciplined perception. I don't know much about him or the facets of his career, but I do know that he is almost perfect for the role (my only stipulation is that he might have looked too young to play Squibb and Dern's character's son). As for June Squibb, she gives the best performance out of everybody. She comes on like a firecracker as Woody's nagging wife who still has his best interests at heart. Every scene she is in is a stealer. Her two best moments are visiting the family's graveyard in Hawthorne and telling off other members of the family who go after Woody hoping to get a piece of him financially.  Squibb just recently got nominated for best supporting actress in this role. I don't know if she'll win but I'm definitely pulling for her.

Flawless acting stints aside, as you watch Nebraska, you figure out more and more that this is not a film about Woody getting his jackpot of a million dollars. What you see is the journey of the Grant clan sort of finding themselves. And the centralized part of that journey involves the vein of the father/son dynamic. The small town of Hawthorne, Nebraska provides the Grants with insight into their family roots, where they grew up, and their friends who seem to all know them from long ago. The character development safe to say, is exceptional here because we get a back story on pretty much everybody. Basically, all the players in Nebraska's setting look and act like your normal everyday Joes. No one and I mean no one who appears on screen, is underdeveloped or for a better word, unrealized. 

All and all, the one thing I enjoyed most about this critical darling, is the ending. This ending, which puts a band aid on everything that happened before it, will leave you feeling lumpy and agog. In a sense, Nebraska has pitch perfect performances and direction that is careful and resounding. This to my liking, makes it a personable film with a giant heart. The movie poster which looks like Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits album cover, would persuade anyone to view this thing being that it has that old-world feel to it. And although the proceedings are slow at times giving the evocation of watching paint dry, it's a good kind of paint. Overall, Nebraska is another notch in the belt of Payne's heartfelt Nebraskan roots. Out of the 100 plus films that surfaced in 2013, this one is truly a keeper.

Written by Jesse Burleson

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