Plot: An aging, booze-addled father makes the trip from Montana to Nebraska with his estranged son in order to claim a million-dollar Mega Sweepstakes Marketing prize.
I just simply love this kind of tale, the father-son reunion, set to the brilliance of the open road. When it’s done right, road trip movies seem to be some of the finest movies available, with their humble roots and down home American slice-of-life nature. Films like “Rain Man”, “Easy Rider”, “Sideways”. Thelma And Louise”, “Little Miss Sunshine”, “Y Tu Mama Tambien”, Transamerica”. “Planes Trains and Automobiles”, and most especially “Paris, Texas” are some of the finest movies out there. And why? Because of the adventure of the story, and the unique characters that we encounter while taking the trip with the main heroes, or villains, of the story. Now, father-son reunion tales are nothing new and can be cliched beyond all belief, but when done right they turn into pure gold. I was a tad bit hesitant of this movie, seeing as the writer of the film hasn’t really written anything before, but when I saw all the glowing reviews from the critics and audience I knew I just had to see it.
The film starts pretty abruptly with one of Woody Grant’s (Bruce Dern) famed drunken shenanigans: he learns that he has a million dollar winning sweepstakes ticket, or so he thinks, so what does he do? He takes off on his own, down the lonely, but open road to travel by foot from Billings, Montana all the way to Lincoln, Nebraska because he thinks that he is a big, million dollar winner. Luckily for everyone around him, he is stopped by a police officer and brought home by his loving, but estranged son David (Will Forte). Of course, when David brings Woody back home he is greeted by his mother Kate (June Squibb), and is informed that his father has this ridiculous idea in his head that his is a prizewinner and that he must travel to Lincoln to collect his winnings. That’s were all the fun begins.
Woody’s persistence and bullheaded, stubborn ways remind me somewhat of my own father. Granted, my dad is 35 years younger than Bruce Dern but the character resonates well in a lot of ways.
This, as I’ve previously stated, is screenwriter Bob Nelson’s first cinematic project, and right off the bat the movie starts off brilliantly. He develops his characters and the settings they’re placed in with precision and an easy pace. The development of each individual character, especially Woody and David, had an array of depth and unique bite that is not common in recent films of this nature. The film conjured up realistic human emotions and a feeling of longing, as displayed wonderfully by Woody, and while dramatic, the film had a wonderful adventurous side and a very keen, witty sense of humor. The movie was actually funny, laugh-out loud funny, thanks to the random one liners that June Squibb’s character Kate kept throwing left and right. It has always been my dream to live in a small town like this, or to travel, and that’s why I look to these sort of films, when they don’t disappoint, to be transported into this quaint world. And Nelson did that fantastically, he captured a movie with depth, heart, and adventure, and transported us into the quaint but adventurous tale of Woody and his family’s wacky shenanigans.
Bruce Dern and Will Forte both give career defining, warm performances as father and son Woody and David. Dern went the extra mile while playing Woody, instead of hamming it up and playing him as a loud-mouthed drunk, he played the character thoughtfully low-key and conservatively. He has given many brilliant performances in his time, especially in “Coming Home”, where he was also Oscar nominated, but I think this is the finest acting role and most honest performance he has ever given. Although I think Matthew McConaughey is going to win for Best Actor, I believe that Bruce Dern has a very good chance at finally taking home the well-deserved award. Will Forte too gave such a magnificent performance, perfectly portraying the emotions of an estranged son with grace and deadpan humor. June Squibb, who was just outstanding and absolutely hilarious in her role as Kate Grant, also has a fantastic chance of winning for Best Supporting Actress. The film also features some fine supporting work from actor Stacy Keach, portraying Woody’s former friend-turned enemy Ed Pegram, and Bob Odenkirk portraying Woody’s older son Ross.
Alexander Payne has been impressing me with his directorial work for quite some time now, with such great films as “The Descendants” and”Sideways”, Sideways being my favorite of his work. “Nebraska” has officially taken that spot away from “Sideways”, I think this is his best directorial effort yet. Phedon Papamichael’s beautiful, picturesque black and white digital cinematography is definitely worthy of the Best Achievement in Cinematography Oscar. Modern movies, especially movies of this nature, just look so gorgeous shot in black-and-white, and Phedon uses it to his advantage. Without a doubt the finest shot cinematography of the year, beating out my favorite nominee contender “Gravity” by a small margin. The musical score was also quite noteworthy, composed by Mark Orton. It was a beautifully composed mix of acoustic guitar melodies, melancholy bluegrass, and lushly played horn and string sections that were well-placed and wonderfully complimented each scene. The film also featured some pieces that weren’t originally composed, including Foghat’s Fool For the City, and Elvis Presley’s In The Ghetto, sang in a hilarious scene by Stacy Keach.
In conclusion, “Nebraska” is both in equal parts a father-and-son drama and a road movie done perfectly by writer Bob Nelson, whose screenplay is a mixture of honest, touching moments and on-point witty humor. The characters have a ton of depth to them, and are played out perfectly by the entire cast – especially by Bruce Dern and Will Forte. “Nebraska” is an adventurous, well-shot slice of Americana and just an honestly great movie.
My Rating: 10/10, a must see!
Thanks for Reading!