“Nebraska” –A Husky Tale in the Cornhusker State

Nebraska

In Alexander Payne’s Academy Award-nominated black-and-white drama, we see the story of a parent with unfulfilled dreams who has damaged adult children who care deeply but are also deeply wounded. A companion piece to “August: Osage County” (see my review January 29, 2014).

The film opens with Woody Grant (Bruce Dern in the performance of his career!)  wandering the streets of  Billings, Montana.   Woody’s son, David (Will Forte of Saturday Night Live fame) is called by the police to pick up his septuagenarian father who wants to walk to Lincoln, Nebraska to collect a $1 million sweepstakes prize he believes he has won.  The all-too-common  mail scam  seems to be discounted by Woody who naively believes his luck has changed. Kate (the scene-stealing June Squibb) berates her husband as a fool for  insisting on collecting the money. David and his brother Ross (Bob Odenkirk from “Breaking Bad” and “Fargo), a local news anchor, discuss putting Woody in a retirement home,  hinting of dementia or senility.  David reluctantly decides to drive his father to Lincoln, much to Kate’s and his brother’s dismay.  Perhaps he can unlock some of the secrets of his father’s past and grow closer to him on the road.

“Nebraska” is stark and lonely: an austere and  bleak landscape of place and mind, where life doesn’t seem to change and dreams remain unfulfilled.  Family dynamics locked into roles of self-deception echo and evoke “August”,   this time between father and sons, not mother and daughters.

The  brutally frank portrayal of aging and unhealed wounds are  at times comical and always heart-breaking.  Forte, best known as a zany comic actor,  makes an impressively restrained dramatic debut as a man who longs to connect yet is reflexively depressed. Odenkirk, as Ross, evolves in surprising and sympathetic ways as a witness to both his brother and father’s decline.

Ultimately, however,  this is Bruce Dern’s film.    His energy is still  there, only now beneath the surface:  dissipated, his rage turned inward, his hearing aid turned up a little to hear the voices inside his own head.

4 comments on ““Nebraska” –A Husky Tale in the Cornhusker State

  1. I loved this film. The black and white photography is exquisite. Since I am from the Midwest I thought the terrain to be beautiful. I also have an understanding of how the people are. It was tragic and also hilarious. I laughed so hard with the situations and predicaments. The script and the acting were terrific and I have loved Bruce Dern forever and now June Squibb!

    • I’m from Ohio and the black-and-white landscape evokes the emotions of the place too. The seriousness, the contrasts in values viewed more as opposing forces on the surface than in less categorical gray tonesbut still waters run deep. A great movie with subtle performances.

  2. I also loved everything about this film: the acting, the cinematography and the story of hope as seen from Woody’s perspective. I found this film to be much gentler and easier to watch than Osage. Thanks for your excellent review!

  3. The sutblety of the script, cinematography, and father-son relationship was more nuanced in “Nebraska” than in “Osage”, but the bleakness and near-grey filming of “Osage”, for me, evoked some of the same desperation to connect that “Nebraska” did. Both, in my view, are new classics in the world of film!

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