Nebraska

December 2, 2013 at 9:27 am | Posted in 2013 | Leave a comment
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Rarely do I see a film that I think is perfect from start to finish; this was almost that film. “Nebraska” unfurls at a slow but steady pace as we follow Woody’s (Bruce Dern) attempts to get to Lincoln, Nebraska to claim the million dollars he thinks he has won. His wife (June Squibb) and sons, played by Will Forte (“Saturday Night Live”) and Bob Odenkirk (“Breaking Bad”), alternately try to talk sense into him or indulge him along his journey. The story is a minor one with no real twists or surprises but it is an honest one and I have great respect for that. Every moment along this journey seems real to me.  Everything the characters do and say seem equally as real. Director, Alexander Payne (“The Decedents,” “Sideways,” “Election”) makes a more modest film here than his previous works. The moments are quieter (the laughter less raucous, the pathos less dramatic) but feel more deeply earned. Payne get’s fantastic performances out of his cast of mostly TV actors. In particular, Dern given the performance of his life as the befuddled, stubborn and deeply scarred Woody. If Dern is the heart of the film, Squibb is its joy; bringing laughter to every scene she is in, even if at times it’s at the expense of a more fully developed character; we see the briefest of glimpses into her pain but it is never explored. But, then, this is Woody’s film and every character revolves around him; fortunately, Dern is up to the task. While lacking the lush beauty of some black and white films (“Blancanieves” from earlier this year, for example), Payne’s use of black and white here lends this film a stark simplicity that matches its plot and mood. Which is not to say that strong emotions aren’t present; they are just more subtly shown. This is a film rich in humor, nostalgia and melancholy. Where it trips up a bit is in the minor dose of sentimentality that Payne sprinkles at the end.  He is wise enough to be somewhat tongue-in-cheek in that final scene but, still, the film would have been just that much better had it ended without it.

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