Ashley Bebbington reviews one of the cinematic highlights of the year in Nebraska.
Nebraska – the new film from film-maker Alexander Payne – is a touching, minimalist story about the lengths people will go to for their family and the corrupting influence of money. Shot entirely in black and white, and featuring a delightful original soundtrack, Nebraska is about an elderly man Woody Grant (Bruce Dern) who is determined to walk to Lincoln, Nebraska because he wrongly believes he’s won 1 million dollars.
The victim of a mail order scam, his family attempts to convince him that he hasn’t won anything, but eventually his youngest son David (Will Forte) offers to drive him to Lincoln to put the matter to rest once and for all. On their journey the pair stop off in Hawthorne, Nebraska, where Woody spent his youth, and they tell everyone in town that he’s a millionaire in order to let him live out his fantasy.
The film is acted wonderfully, Bruce Dern justifiably having picked up the award for Best Actor at this year’s Cannes film festival. Dern is the star of the show by a mile, very believably portraying a man who is slowly going senile. Dern is paired with Will Forte, who is fantastic in selflessly indulging his father’s fantasy. June Squibb is also wonderful playing Kate, Woody’s wife, who is very stern of character; thick skinned after years of dealing with her stubborn and difficult husband. Breaking Bad star Bob Odenkirk does well in his minor role as Ross, David’s older brother, acclimatising well to a role demanding less comedy than he is accustomed to.
Visually, the movie is absolutely stunning. Undoubtedly a love letter to rural America, it constantly makes use of minimalistic static shots of countryside scenery that are an absolute treat to see. These are put to the best effect when the characters are on the road, allowing you to ponder the view along with them as they cruise down the highway.
Nebraska’s greatest triumph, however, is the fact that it’s supremely relatable. The dysfunctional Grant family get you thinking deeply about your own relatives; no matter how much they may annoy you, they’re bound to you by blood and you’ll always deeply care for them. The best example of this is David’s selfless indulgence of his father’s fantasy of becoming rich; despite the fact that he knows he’s not actually going to become a millionaire. This story arc provides the basis for Nebraska; it’s truly touching, and will leave you with a warm feeling inside long after the credits roll.
It also deals with other family matters, such as the awkwardness of hearing your parents discuss who they dated before finally finding each other, being reunited with family members you’ve not seen in over a decade only to find you’ve got nothing in common with them, and discovering new information about your parents’ youth.
Additionally, the story deals with darker side of family matters; the corrupting influence of money. Upon discovering that Woody has become rich, many of his family and old acquaintances in his hometown crawl out of the woodwork and demand a slice of the pie. The film’s main antagonist is Woody’s former business partner, Ed Peagram (Stacy Keach), who threatens legal action unless Woody settles a debt he incurred whilst they worked together decades previously. This aspect of Nebraska will strike a chord with anyone who’s ever experienced a family argument over inheritance in the death of a family member.
Nebraska is one of the most refreshingly original films of 2013, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it picks up a few Academy Award nominations in the New Year.
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