Nebraska review: A crazy old man on a crazy mission
Bruce Dern is 77 years old and if IMDb is to be believed, then he has 144 acting credits to his name. Nebraska rests upon his shoulders. If you don't recognise his name, don't let it stop you from watching Nebraska. Dern is the undoubtedly the star of this film, but there's a lot to love in this story about a man who everyone thinks is off his rocker. Nebraska has been nominated for best picture, best actor, best actress in a supporting role, best direction and cinematography at this year's Oscars, and for good reason.
Dern plays Woody Grant, a doddering old alcoholic who receives a spam notice saying he may have won a million dollars. Most people would laugh at such a letter and trash it, but Woody is convinced the letter is genuine. He's determined to go to Lincoln, Nebraska, which is two states away from where he lives, to collect his prize. His wife and two sons tell him repeatedly that it's foolishness to make that journey, but Woody won't budge from his decision. On the spur of a moment, Woody's younger son David (Will Forte) decides to take Woody to Nebraska, partly because Woody just won't let go of the idea that a million dollars are waiting form him and partly because David just wants to get out of the bland disappointment that fills his everyman life.
Shot in black and white, Alexander Payne's Nebraska doesn't let anything distract you from Dern's awe-inspiring portrayal of Woody. The sight of Dern shuffling unsteadily on roads that seem to stretch out to nowhere appears repeatedly and each time, you can't help but feel both an overwhelming sympathy for this confused old man as well as empathy for his family that's frustrated and annoyed by his actions. Woody is like an ancient, rusty juggernaut. Injury, hospitalisation, family squabbles — a host of obstacles crop up, trying to knock sense into him and make him turn back. But Woody rolls on. Each time something or someone gets between him and Nebraska, he pauses, then gets up and starts walking.
Bob Nelson's script is a beautifully-crafted journey that doesn't rush into anything. Nebraska unfolds elegantly, steadily and slowly. Sharply witty in parts, this is a tender, loving film. Filled with imperfect characters, almost every one of them has an arc. Like a spider web catching sunlight, each character has at least one moment in which they're revealed to be more than what initially met the eye. June Squibb has an Oscar nomination for her portrayal of Kate, Woody's cantankerous wife who is constantly running him (and everyone else) down. She seems to be a rather unpleasant woman until the point at which she comes out in Woody's defence with belligerent, protective rage. You realise she is malicious, yes, but she's also a fighter. In a similar fashion, every character glints unexpectedly in the light of Nelson's script.
Using Woody's journey as a lens, Payne trains his gaze upon classic elements of Americana. There are family reunions, there's greed when some people in Woody's hometown believe his claims of being a millionaire, there's the father-son relationship, there's the wandering hero; but above all, against a stark black and white landscape, there is grace.
Updated Date: Mar 02, 2014 17:09 PM