Everyone loves a road trip movie and with previous successes such as Sideways and About Schmidt, director Alexander Payne returns to the popular trend with his latest offering that has already been generating Oscar buzz, thanks to its veteran star.
Nebraska sees stubborn Woody Grant (Bruce Dern) try to claim a $1 million reward after receiving a letter in the post. Despite it being a cheap marketing ploy, Woody’s reluctant son David (Will Forte) volunteers to drive his father from Montana to Nebraska to collect his winnings – while running into old friends and family, who want to get in on Woody’s ‘good fortune’.
It’s hard to find fault in a film that is so simple in its concept and execution. Filmed in black and white, it is minimalist filmmaking stripped to its roots. There are heroes and villains in the piece, moral dilemmas and a sense of curiosity about how the story is going to play out. Drawing on his love for the state, Payne guides us through the almost desolate backdrop of small-town America – a stark change of scenery compared to the lush surroundings from his previous feature The Descendants – but he is able to bring a personal truth behind the story (ironic considering that he is not Nebraska’s screenwriter). The plot of this is really simple yet believable, making it easy to care about the situation – all of which is made better by the subtle performances of its cast.
Even though Woody is a bit of a pain, Dern plays him with a quietness that can be considered as endearing. What you see is what you get – a character whose expressionless face gives you the truth to his life in black and white. Forte is the eyes and ears of the piece, as he tries to save his father from the vultures that quickly surround him such as Woody’s greedy ex-partner Ed Peegram (Stacy Keach), while learning about his complex past. However, both of them cannot compare to the wily Kate, Woody’s wife (June Squibb), whose initially grating loudmouth is one of the film’s true gems and gives the film its best scene.
Essentially, Nebraska is a simple tale about a clueless man’s hope. Thanks to its minimalist filmmaking and the sterling performances that will quickly sweep you off your feet, it leaves a mark that will surely crop up in the 2014 awards season.
Nebraska is out in UK cinemas on 6th December 2013.
Director: Alexander Payne
Writer: Bob Nelson
Stars: Bruce Dern, Will Forte, June Squibb
Runtime: 115 min