Friday, 21 February 2014
Following the tradition of old-folk-road-movies such as David Lynch’s wonderful The Straight Story (1999) and the Peter Masterson’s saccharin The Trip to Bountiful (1985) comes Alexander Payne’s Nebraska (2013), a tale of one elderly man’s mission to hit the road and pursue the million dollar winnings he’s been promised by a magazine-subscription company.
Wandering aside the highway, Woody (Bruce Dern) has his sights firmly set on the prize. The police return him home to his rambunctious wife who is finding his behaviour increasingly hard to deal with. After much conviction from his son David (Will Forte), Woody fails to believe that the letter is a scam and again, sets out on foot to Lincoln, Nebraska to collect his winnings. As a means of keeping the peace and to keep his dad from harm, David decides to drive him there. En route and a hospital visit later, the pair stop at Woody’s brother’s home in Hawthorne where he used to live. Encountering many an old friend and many an enemy, Woody makes his “winnings” known which in turn makes him a local celebrity and the unfortunate subject of unappeasable avarice.
Filmed in black and white, the monochrome landscapes tighten the focus on the hopeless central character, keeping the viewers eyes firmly on his plight. Cinematographer, Phedon Papamichael captures the tragic loneliness of sweeping rural landscapes that mirror Woody’s troglodytic position, particularly when he returns to the town that carried on living in his absence. Predictably, the film becomes more about relationships with familial rewards replacing the financial and it’s the dynamics within this tempestuous family, that enable the cast to deliver some incredible performances.
Bruce Dern is both loveable and frustrating, as the disintegrating yet determined lead and the relationship with his battle-axe wife, Kate (June Squibb) is awkwardly familiar as the pair clash at the exertion of every breath. Kate is hilariously frank and performed with real gusto by Squibb whose graveyard fanny-flashing provides one of the film’s many comic highlights. David’s revelatory chats with the locals add flesh to the bones of his parents' heritage, which only serves to make them all the more irresistible. Bob Odenkirk (forever known as Breaking Bad’s Saul) and Will Forte bubble comically with authentic sibling rivalry, that simmers gently throughout. Nebraska, is a heartwarming and gentle journey full of laugh out loud moments and believably touching performances. Nominated for many an award this season, Nebraska may not receive the million dollar prize but it has doubtlessly proved itself as a real winner.