This splendid achievement by Sideways' Alexander Payne caused a critical stir in Cannes last year, one whose far-reaching popularity has given lead Bruce Dern (Django Unchained) his second Oscar nomination. And with good cause, this performance as an ageing man addled by the ravages of booze and the onset of dementia is utterly bewitching. Although the subject matter has immediate comparisons to Michael Haneke's Amour as loved ones work out what to do with him, the treatment couldn't be more dissimilar.

For Nebraska is primarily a warm hearted, often funny exploration of family ties, particularly between father and son. It's also one of perception and the treatment of doddery elders, notably when they appear to fall of their rocker as is the case with Woody Grant (Dern). Convinced he's won a $1 million in a sweepstakes (he has a letter to 'prove' it is not a scam), the 80 year old sets off to claim his winnings. No matter that their office is two states away and Woody doesn't have a licence, he'll walk if he has too and it's about here that his son David steps up to the plate. Sensing an opportunity to save his father from himself, and hopefully make good with the old man, he offers to drive him to Nebraska.

This is a film is full of exceptional performances that make the most of an impressive script by newcomer Bob Nelson. Central to the action is the relationship between Woody and David played with pitch-perfect, middle-aged frustration by Will Forte (30 Rock). As their journey takes in the curmudgeon in their life, wife and mother Kate (June Squibb – About Schmidt), friends and family slowly roll into the story, some with greater self-regard than others. This cast of questionably motivated minor characters (most want a slice of Woody's action) create a vivid ensemble. Stacey Keach (The Bourne Legacy) speaks volumes as an old friend turned new best friend.

But the story unfolds with David as he begins to build a new and more respectful picture of his father's place in the world, and a world long gone. Nebraska reveals itself as a masterpiece full of searing honesty and delicate moments, a touching film whose overwhelming beauty is fused by the luminescent, black-and-white vision of cinematographer Phedon Papamichael (The Descendants). There's a haunting minimalism that recalls The Last Picture Show not only for its depiction of the American mid-west, but the sadness it evokes. As Woody and David make their way across this landscape, Papamichael and Payne create an evocative portrait of America – sometimes enticing, often repellent – one that's hard to forget.

Do not miss Nebraska. From an awards season full of memorable pictures, this rises to the top to become unquestionably, the finest American film in years.


Previewed at Cannes Film Festival on 23 May 2013



Bruce Dern
Will Forte
June Squibb
Stacey Keach

Alexander Payne

Bob Nelson



115 minutes

February 20, 2014
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