Friday, November 28, 2014

Nebraska (2013)

An intimate and majestic road picture, directed by Alexander Payne, about an elderly alcoholic who becomes convinced he has won a million dollars in a sweepstakes scam, and is determined to get from his home in Montana to Lincoln, Nebraska, in order to collect his prize. His bemused son finally agrees to drive him there, and during a stay over in their old hometown, learns a great deal about his father that he never knew.

Bruce Dern delivers a fine performance -- one of the best of his prolific career -- as the defeated, broken-down old man who feels life has passed him by. Will Forte is surprisingly effective as his affable if rather timid son who agrees to indulge his fantasy, which he sees as basically harmless. June Squibb's performance as Dern's shrewish wife is undeniably well-played, but the role as written seems rather one-note, lacking the subtlety that would have made the character both more well-rounded and more sympathetic at appropriate moments in the story. Payne bathes the film in grim naturalism, with a real sense of authenticity in the details of the small town and its inhabitants. The atmosphere is greatly enhanced by the sweeping black and white photography of the flat, sprawling Midwestern landscapes. The milieu, themes and approach all recall very strongly the BBS productions of the early '70s. The naturalism of Payne's approach is undercut at times by the melodrama in the storytelling, though thankfully these moments are few and far enough between that they do not detract from the overall tone, which remains sad, wistful and yet unexpectedly optimistic in the end.

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