Clearly old Bruce Dern can still do Oscar-worthy work
Touching and thoughtful, this beautiful little gem will take you on a trip which is all about the journey and little to do with the destination.Nebraska follows the seemingly whimsical and perhaps even outright insane obsession of Woody, an old, borderline-senile once-alcoholic who goes on a quest to travel hundreds of miles from Montana to Nebraska to claim the million dollars that a spurious, generic mailing states that he may have won. It’s a crazy quest, and everybody knows it, but Woody refuses to see that, plagued – as his son explains – with an innate trust in what anybody tells him, so much so that if a letter arrives saying he may have won a million, he believes that that’s what has happened.Of course, Nebraska is about far more than just Woody’s journey, surrounding him with old acquaintances, friends and family, who – when they hear of his windfall – all react in frequently venomous, money-grabbing ways. Conversely, there are a few whose reaction is the polar opposite; who cling to Woody and, even when they see the sheer insanity of his obsession, merely want to help this lost soul fulfil one last wish.
Following suit after Sideways and The Descendants, Payne continues his run of acclaimed human dramas, rich with equal parts sharp wit and authentic character observation.
Shot in exquisite black and white by The Descendants’ Director Alexander Payne, fans of Payne’s work will note the familiar dark wit, touching true-to-life observations, and very human drama that pervades this piece, and similarly revel – perhaps as they did with Clooney’s understated, against-type performance in The Descendants – at Bruce Dern’s fabulous centre-stage lead. At once unlike anything he’s ever done before - if you’ve seen Silent Running or The Driver, or any of Dern’s strongest performances, you’ll be aware of the fact that he’s better known for more flamboyant, colourful characters - it’s also quintessentially Dern, as he conveys so much with so little; poised, eccentric, understated and restrained, he’s superior in the role, and the eclectic cast of familiar, and less familiar, faces further enhances the piece. It's a late career-high for the veteran actor.
Although comparisons will be made with Payne's previous work - only appropriately - the film also felt reminiscent of the acclaimed animated feature, Up, which also had some strikingly touching emotion behind its grumpy-old-man exterior. Nebraska may not have as many colourful balloons, instead keeping its feet firmly on the ground, but its messages about faith and hope, about friends, family and foes, are all just as relevant, and just as poignant.
Slow-burning, but immensely satisfying, there’s plenty to explore, absorb and engage-with in this unusual character drama.