From the director of Sideways & The Descendants, and starring Bruce Dern in the leading role, who also won the Best Actor Award for his performance in this film at 2013 Cannes Film Festival, Nebraska is an immensely poignant & hilarious road trip adventure by Alexander Payne that paints a very amusing portrait of a father-son relationship, is a subtle reflection of the daily lives of old people & captures the state of Nebraska in all its beauty & eccentricity to succeed as another seamless fusion of humour, culture & idiosyncratic characters into a single delightful human story helmed by a director reveling at the very top of his game.
Nebraska concerns an aging, alcoholic & slightly demented old man named Woody Grant who takes a road trip from Montana to Nebraska with his son, David, in order to collect the million dollars sweepstakes prize he mistakes himself to have won. Already knowing that it’s a complete scam, David still agrees to drive the old man to his destination in order to calm him down for once & to also break monotony from his own mundane life. While on the way, they decide to stop at Woody’s hometown of Hawthorne for a family reunion but when the news of him hitting it rich spreads like wildfire, friends & foes start circling around like vultures in order to squeeze out their own little shares for unsettled debts while also triggering some past memories that Woody has tried to bury.
Fresh from the critical & commercial success of The Descendants, Alexander Payne could’ve chosen any big budget project he would’ve wanted to film but instead decided to go with this venture that seems uninviting in more ways than one. But, Nebraska also presents the director at his most creative & in complete control of his talents and is arguably the finest film he’s made so far. The screenplay brims with expressionless humour & captures an American extended family in a satirical manner. The decision to shoot in black & white pays off tremendously well as it provides a crispness, timelessness & poetic touch to the story but there were also few moments when I wondered how much more beautiful those widely captured landscapes would’ve looked in colour. Editing brings the pace down to move the story as slow as the daily lives of old people & the score boasts some really heartwarming tracks to go with its images.
Coming to the performances, Nebraska features a peculiar cast in Bruce Dern, Will Forte, June Squibb, Stacy Keach, Bob Odenkirk & others but the sum of their efforts has really lifted this film to a great extent. At the age of 77 years, Bruce Dern delivers his career-best work as Woody Grant; an old man of few words who is hellbent on going to Nebraska & wouldn’t budge for anyone or anything until he collects his million dollars. What really started as a stubborn character really grows into someone we end up caring about as the film progresses & I’ve nothing but praise for the manner Dern has captured Grant’s stuffed-up emotions, bland expressions & old age frailties. The comedic actor Will Forte finds himself out of his comfort zone here & yet impresses as David Grant; Woody’s son who is trying to understand his father & finds out much more than anticipated when he visits Woody’s hometown. We also have June Squibb as Woody’s wife & her performance is absolutely sensational as Squibb ends up stealing almost every scene she appears in. Rest of the cast also chips in with commendable contribution & leaves nothing much to really complain about.
Though it may give an appearance of a snooze fest & its slow pacing might even force some viewers to take a step back but in my opinion you really shouldn’t give it a miss because the deadpan humour used here is done to such good effect along with its really interesting characters that it keeps the juices flowing for us throughout its 110 minutes of runtime & is full of hilarious moments from the beginning to end. On an overall scale, Nebraska is a wonderfully directed, starkly written, superbly performed, gorgeously photographed, carefully edited & pleasantly composed cinema that also scores pretty high as one of the finest comedies of its year. The best thing about it is definitely the splendid adaptation of Bob Nelson’s mesmerizing script on the film canvas under Payne’s assured direction but it still wouldn’t have been as rewarding an experience as it turned out to be without Bruce Dern’s magnificent performance which gave Nebraska its own heart & soul. Filmed in a light-hearted manner & wittingly exploring the relationship between an estranged father & confused son whose once stale relation finds a new life on a pointless road-trip, Alexander Payne’s latest comes thoroughly recommended.