Review: NEBRASKA (2013) | Casey's Movie Mania | Movie Reviews, Features & Others

Thursday, 6 February 2014

Review: NEBRASKA (2013)

Review: NEBRASKA (2013)
Bruce Dern delivers a career-best performance in this elegantly-told comic drama.

After feeling disappointed for the first time ever with Alexander Payne's last directing effort in 2011's THE DESCENDANTS (a movie which was heavily praised by many top critics), I'm relieved that Payne has returned to form in his latest comic drama, NEBRASKA.


When Woody Grant (Bruce Dern) first found wandering along a busy stretch of Billings, Montana highway by a police officer, he is brought into the police station where Woody's son David (Will Forte) picks him up afterwards. Then David finds out that his old man actually wanted to go to Lincoln, Nebraska to claim his $1 million dollars prize after receiving a sweepstakes letter. David insists the letter is nothing more than a scam to sell magazine subscriptions. But being a stubborn old man that he always is, Woody is very convinced he has won the prize money and will go to Lincoln no matter what it takes. Even Woody's outspoken wife Kate (June Squibb) and second son Ross (Bob Odenkirk) fails to talk him out of it. So in order to please his old man, David takes sick leave for few days and decides to drive him on a long road trip to Lincoln.

Like David Lynch's THE STRAIGHT STORY (1999) and Alexander Payne's own ABOUT SCHMIDT (2002), NEBRASKA shares the basic outline of a story about an old man's road trip to soul-searching discovery. Here, Payne's direction is wonderfully poignant, while Bob Nelson's feature-debut screenplay is both moving and hilarious without being cloying.

But the movie's biggest limelight are the impeccable acting ensemble that Payne assembled here. First and foremost is 77-year-old screen veteran Bruce Dern who scores a perfectly understated performance as the stubborn old man, Woody Grant (a role which originally intended for the long-retired Gene Hackman). Often typecast in bad-guy roles, it's really refreshing to see Dern in a different light. As the estranged son David, SNL (Saturday Night Live) veteran Will Forte delivers a surprisingly nuanced performance that proves he is also adept in the dramatic acting role. Veteran June Squibb steals the show each time she appears on the screen with her acid-tongued performance as Woody's wife, Kate. The rest of the supporting actors (including Stacy Keach as Woody's former business partner and Angela McEwan as Woody's ex-girlfriend from the past) are equally memorable as well.

As for the technical department, Phedon Papamichael's expressive black-and-white cinematography delivers a timeless quality to the rural American landscape of a bygone era. Last but not least is Mark Orton's minimalist score which combines a beautiful mix of guitar and fiddle.

The wonderful final scene where David finally does something really useful to make his old man happy.
If there's a minor gripe about this movie, there are times the pace feels stagnant. At two-hour long, Payne could have benefited his movie more by trimming down a little.

Overall, NEBRASKA is a great comeback effort (at least for me) from Alexander Payne since 2004's SIDEWAYS. One of the best movies of 2013.

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