Nebraska is the latest film from director Alexander Payne, which means that you can already decide, pretty much, whether you’re going to like it or not. Because Payne has a certain type of movie that he likes to make. He makes intimate movies about the human condition, movies that weave some humour (sometimes very dark humour, but humour nonetheless) through the storyline, and his filmography shows slow and steady maturation with almost each project. I think he’s damn good at what he does, and Nebraska stands alongside his best stuff.
It’s all about a man (Bruce Dern) heading to Nebraska to claim a million dollars that he believes he has won. His son (Will Forte) tries to make him see sense, to show him that it’s just a scam and there really isn’t a big cash prize waiting for him, but the man just will not be dissuaded. Which leads to the two of them making the journey together, meeting family and old friends along the way, and quickly discovering just how people can change their attitudes when they think a lot of money is heading to someone that they’ve known for many years.
Shot in quite glorious black and white (and cinematographer Phedon Papamichael certainly deserves a mention here), Nebraska is an uncomplicated film. The characters portrayed by Dern and Forte, and also June Squibb (as the wife of Dern’s character), are pretty much exactly as they present themselves, thanks to the script by Bob Nelson, and Payne’s direction. There’s no artifice here. The movie uses this to then show how perception is skewed by both past events, and also the perpetuation of false memories.
Dern has been getting a lot of praise for his performance, and it’s deserved. However, others have also mentioned that this isn’t above and beyond anything that he’s done before now. That’s true. To see him nominated is a pleasure, but I suspect he has some more to show us, if given the chance. Forte is excellent as the good son, doing his duty while also trying to fix some bridges that Dern doesn’t view as broken. And Squibb is wonderful, initially making you wonder just what Dern ever saw in her until she takes control of the situation and stands up for her husband in a scene that just underpins everything that the movie is about. Bob Odenkirk is very enjoyable as the other son, a man who doesn’t want to pander to the whim of his father, but who also stands up for his family, and then there’s Stacy Keach as Ed Pegram, an apparent friend who soon shows another side when he hears about the money.
This is one of those movies that doesn’t seem to do a lot as it winds from start to finish, but by the time the end credits roll you realise just how much you’ve enjoyed yourself, just how much you’ve invested in the characters, and just how moved you were. In short, this is another great Alexander Payne movie.
DIRECTOR: ALEXANDER PAYNE
WRITER: BOB NELSON
STARS: WILL FORTE, BRUCE DERN, JUNE SQUIBB, BOB ODENKIRK, STACY KEACH, MARY LOUISE WILSON, RANCE HOWARD
RUNTIME: 115 MINS APPROX