Nebraska (2013)

Nebraska (2013)I’ve been waiting to get around to watching Nebraska (2013) even if Bruce Dern once shot John Wayne in The Cowboys (1972) but that was over forty years ago and most people have got over that awful scene that has more recently made me turn slightly against the actor (only for a day or so). I have seen Dern deliver some fine performances before and after that film. He is triumphed by Quentin Tarantino who has finally found a film for him, (after his cameo in Django Unchained (2012)) he is finding a new lease of life on film. All this could be down to his Oscar nominated performance in this black comedy Nebraska that sees an elderly father fall for one of the worst marketing scams going today, the million dollar check, which is something that really deserves to be thrown in the bin. Not for unwitting Woody Grant (Dern) who has for weeks already been making attempts to travel/walk to Lincoln, Nebraska to claim his new-found fortune. Driving his family mad with despair for Woody.

What follows is an unlikely road-trip with his youngest son David (Will Forte) who reluctantly takes him to Nebraska if only to prove that he is letting himself in for a lot of embarrassment as the film progresses. You could say Nebraska is about marketing scams targeting the elderly who are more vulnerable to such practices. That’s only scratching the surface and missing the point completely, its setting things up to allow David to get to know his father better than he has in a long time. Bringing him closer to his father.

I said this was a road-trip movie, well it is in part, they do travel in a car, stopping mostly in Woody’s home town, full of memories and people from his past, one he has forgotten mostly about. Staying at his brother Ray’s (Rance Howard) home with his wife Martha (Mary Louise Wilson) and sons. This is where the real comedy starts to happen for me, the family dynamic of a family that is full of elderly and the middle-aged, all with life experience, it’s the older generation who have all the best lines though. Especially June Squibb the long-suffering wife Kate who doesn’t hold back whoever company she’s in. Stealing every scene she’s in, with a heap of charm that you can only get the older you become, the licence to let rip with what you say, not caring what others think. 

Moving onto the cinematography, a rare black and white film, even though technically it’s not, filmed digitally in colour and converted in post-production. The effect does allow you to concentrate more on the characters, not distracted by the world around them. It really comes into its own when we have the wide open shots of the landscape, just as the sunrises or sets, making it come into its own. Otherwise I was trying to work out what the real colours were. Knowing also that a colour version of the film was recently shown in a U.S channel which caused a stir, which I can understand. Ultimately with two versions out for broadcast is it really much point to argue. It’s not as if the film was original shot in black and white before being colorized, which really is a controversial technique. 

Coming back to around to Nebraska as a film it has a real heart, focusing on the family dynamic in later life, everyone has grown up, the truth will one day come out, you can see everyone’s true colour beyond the smiles at family gatherings. We learn more about Woody than anyone and that’s how we like it really, that’s where all the heart is, we want to know more about this man who is now a bumbling alcoholic who has become a shadow of his younger self which is quite sad really.

Supported by a maturer cast of characters who paint the picture of Woody’s life, all corrected by Martha allowing us to understand a flawed human being who has tried his best, bumbling through life it seems. We all know someone who has struggled, or struggling, a very human facet that sometimes can have a stronger hold over us. Making this a very relatable and enjoyable film that had me in laughing more than I thought I would. Whilst never mocking an elderly it celebrates their humanity which is rarely seen on film today.

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3 responses

  1. Lots of folks noticed that Nebraska was pretty well a direct take-off of The Straight Story starring Richard Farnsworth (1999). No problem – still a nice movie done very well with a great cast. Dern plays it a lot more cantankerous and obstinate than Farnsworth, but a nice job all around.

    November 8, 2014 at 4:37 pm

    • I thought that too, not so much a direct take off, this is much lighter than the far more rewarding Straight story that does more than make you laugh, you feel warm inside with Richard. Dern is more as you say cantankerous and well Dernish.

      November 8, 2014 at 7:15 pm

  2. It was another one of Payne’s simple-minded, straight-forward kind of movies, but it worked so well that I didn’t care. Good review Tim.

    November 8, 2014 at 7:43 pm

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