Release Date: 6th December 2013
Running Time: 115 Minutes
Director: Alexander Payne
Starring: Bruce Dern, Will Forte, June Squibb, Bob Odenkirk, Stacy Keach
Woody Grant isn’t a fool: he just has the unfortunate tendency to believe things people tell him. So when he receives a letter from a marketing scam telling him he’s won a million dollars, he sets out from his home in Montana to pick up his prize in Lincoln, Nebraska nearly one thousand miles away.
Alexander Payne once again explores issues of male relationships and paternal roles, and once again he coaxes mesmeric performances from his central cast. Bruce Dern as Woody is both a crotchety old bastard and a frail, almost childlike character. With stooped shoulders and shuffling steps, he wanders through his life seemingly oblivious to the world around him, lost in a fog of incomprehension possibly caused by a lifetime of drinking. It is a fantastic feat of acting. Woody is completely open and often brutally honest but still somehow mysterious and unknowable. His face, captured in beautiful black and white photography by Payne’s regular cinematographer Phedon Papamichael, is weathered by years of hard work, failures, romance and tragedy, by life and the living of it. The inner life of a character is expressed by the gleam in his faraway eyes or with the jerk of his head. Any and all plaudits aimed at Mr Dern are completely justified.
After Woody has undertaken several attempts to walk to Nebraska – causing no end of strife for his long-suffering spouse Kate – his son David (Will Forte) decides to put an end to the matter by driving him there and proving to his father that the letter he so cherishes is worthless. However, the expected detour into a black and white, father-son version of The Guilt Trip never comes and Nebraska slowly changes gears. A delay in their journey forces Woody and David to stop over in Woody’s old hometown for the weekend, setting the stage for an impromptu family reunion, as well as exposing a side of his parents David wasn’t fully aware of. This is a road movie where the journey taken is one of emotion and discovery rather than one of geographical distance.
Nebraska is not only about a son coming to understand his father however, it is also a film about America and its infatuation with money and status. When family and friends hear of Woody’s supposed fortune, resentments and grudges from the past begin to surface as menacing old associates and hungry eyed relatives start circling round Woody and his “money” like vultures. Much like Payne’s earlier film The Descendants, blood may be thicker than water, but it is nowhere near as viscous and motivating as money.