'Nebraska' review: Nuanced journey through America's heartland
The latest from director Alexander Payne ('The Descendants,' 'Sideways' and 'Election') is a brilliantly quiet and poetic hero's story.
In short: Elderly, cantankerous Woody Grant (Bruce Dern) believes he has won a million dollar sweepstakes - and he is absolutely determined to make the trip from Montana to Nebraska, by any means necessary, to claim his prize. His estranged son (Will Forte) decides to join Woody on the road trip. (watch the trailer)
'Nebraska' is not only a poignant and hilarious story told by a master filmmaker - it also features one of the strongest cast performances of 2013.
With award season just around the corner, let it be known: Bruce Dern and June Squibb (playing Woody's long suffering wife Kate) are strong contenders for acting awards. Even 'MacGruber' star Will Forte holds his own in this actors' film. Forte is surprisingly nuanced in this road trip comedy/drama, as the 'SNL' alum primarily serves as the straight man, often setting up or reacting to the jokes.
Dern's portrayal of a plainspoken, single-minded and ornery Woody Grant is compelling. Dern never lets Woody simply languish as a cranky old man - Dern presents a complex portrait of a man who will not be stopped, yet clearly suffers a lifetime of regrets. This journey defines what Woody has to live for and it brings him back to his origins. Although Woody always appears 'out-of-it,' Dern's performance injects a reserved, acute awareness into Woody's gaze.
Woody Grant's quixotic journey to collect a fortune - that may not exist - beautifully sets up a rich journey that takes Woody back to deeply personal places of his history and childhood.
This is adventure in the land of pickup trucks, old taverns and steak joints. Everything about this film is analog, not digital. 'Nebraska' is set in a world of lifelong farmers, hard-working mechanics and small-town folk. These are people with simple wants, revealing the courage of a people committed to their livelihoods, family and community.
The black-and-white palette presents visually-striking world of a stark, timeless landscape. It effectively flushes out the noise and allows the simplicity of America's heartland to stand out.
Finally, the film's funny and honest tone beautifully dances between sweet, endearing and gently tragic. This is a sharp comedy rife with dramatic insight and heart-wrenching moments.
'Nebraska' is much more than a story of a man trying to get rich quick. This is a complex (at times unlikable) old man whose personal journal reveals how Woody Grant became a cranky old drunk. And during Woody and David's trip together, a son learns about the events that molded his father and the father learns about the son he largely ignored.
Final verdict: 'Nebraska' is a masterful and understated hero's journey supported by an incredible cast and capped one of the great lead acting performances of 2013.