Written by: Bob Nelson
Directed by: Alexander Payne
Starring: Bruce Dern, Will Forte, June Squibb
Story: David Grant (Forte) takes his alcoholic, aging father (Dern) on a road trip to Nebraska in order to help him claim his million dollar marketing prize.
Alexander Payne certainly has a distinctive style which is impossible to ignore. Films like ‘Sideways’ and ‘The Descendants’ garnered critical acclaim and even awards nominations, and with his latest offering, Nebraska, we are truly shown that Payne has no desire to slow down. Partnering with writer Bob Nelson, they have together created a film that has been nominated for five Golden Globes, six Independent Spirit Awards, and two SAG Awards among others. Not bad for Nelson’s third screenplay.
We have seen a few films lately that have attempted something poignant, dramatic and character driven, but all have fallen short by offering something that is ultimately slow and lifeless. This is where Nebraska thrives. The film itself is patient, considered, and beautifully carried by stellar performances from Dern, Forte and Squibb. Nelson has done well to create characters who are mirror images of true Americana and real life in the mid-west.
Dern is in fine form and it can be said that this will probably be the capstone of his career. His performance is soulful and captivating providing both joy and sorrow. He is complimented perfectly by Will Forte. The risk here might be to peg these two performances against each other, however approaching them as part of the same gives us a beautiful symphony. Often when we see a comedic actor take on a more dramatic role it can be almost akin to a dog walking on it’s hind legs, but Forte slips into this role with ease and maturity. Juen Squibb tops off the main cast with comic relief: her approach to dark comedy is touching.
The film is shot in black and white, and curiously there is no real explanation as to why. While the cinematography is stunning, we might get caught up in wondering why Payne made this distinct decision. We can perhaps come to our own conclusion, however, that it is to represent the timelessness of the story of family, sacrifice, and generation.
The soundtrack does seem to add length to this film and you might find yourself slightly restless towards the one hour mark: perhaps a more poignant or relevant score would have made this film perfect. There is no doubt, though, that this movie is very close to it.
It would be very easy to write Nebraska off as a boring, slow blast from the past. However, the more we look at he simplicity of the story and the intricacies of the performances the more we realize that Nebraska is something that can strike a chord with nearly anyone: that is what film-making is about.