on 7 April 2014
Black and white cinematography seems just right for the high flatlands of the Dakotas, Montana, and Nebraska, and I think that what I'll remember most clearly about this movie are the spare images of the land, which Alexander Payne makes sure we see in a variety of lights and times of day. The sense of impermanence in the small towns that are passed through, and in the images of the aging people, suggest that everything changes and yet nothing does. The land looks as it must have looked when Woody Grant (Bruce Dern) was a boy, probably around 1930 and how it looked when he came back from the Korean War to a choice between farming and being a mechanic. Woody is an alcoholic in the early stages of dementia, and he believes that a flier he has received in the mail means that he has won a million dollars, refusing to believe that the flier doesn't promise the million but only a chance at it (if the number on the flier is a winner). His son Bobby (Will Forte), in an unsatisfying job and a problematic relationship, decides to humor his dad by driving him from their home in Billings, Montana to Lincoln, Nebraska to pick up the money.
It's not easy to say where the power of this movie resides. Bruce Dern gives a totally convincing performance as a stubborn, failing old man, but the movie can hardly be said to be a character study, for Woody is beyond development or self-expression. Always a man of few words (we're told by other characters), he has fewer now that he is failing. There's pathos in this, and there's a sense of how difficult it must be to live with and care for such a person. Woody's wife, Kate (June Squibb), has a point when she asks her son who is concerned about his father, "What about me?" It's a poignant question, since Woody doesn't seem to have played a very active part in his sons' growing up. Kate is tough and blunt, and we can see that these qualities are carrying her through a difficult time -- and (we get hints in the movie) there have been earlier difficult times. Squibb gives a vivid performance here, though the character as conceived by the script verges on the tough matriarch stereotype. And there's the family comedy dimension of the movie -- on their way to Lincoln, Woody and Bobby visit the family of Woody's brother (whose two thuggish sons form perhaps a too-convenient comic contrast with Bobby) in the little town where they all grew up. The word gets around the more extended family and the townsfolk that Woody is really a millionaire -- and all sorts of people come out of the woodwork claiming a share of Woody's good fortune because of what they claim they did for him way back when. The focus of that theme comes to a head in a confrontation with Ed Pegram (Stacy Keach), Woody's old partner in an auto-mechanic business. Ed reckons Woody owes him around 20 grand. Woody reckons that Ed owes him a compressor that he stole. Heaven only knows the truth of matter, but Ed is one mean dude, and he gets a kind of comeuppance.
So . . . all of these strands are engaging, and yet the movie seems to add up to a bit more. For me, it was focused in a conversation that Bobby has with Peggy Nagy, the editor/owner of the local paper and (Bobby learns) an old flame of Woody's who was beaten out by Kate because she (Peggy) "wouldn't let Woody touch all the bases." The implication is that Kate would, and did. Bobby asks Peggy if, back then, his father drank too much, and Peggy says that of course he did. Out here, she says, "there wasn't much else to do." The movie, especially in its visual dimension, gives Peggy's statement the ring of truth. The land seems both beautiful and remote from human concerns. The towns are small, and the aging people we see, like Woody's brothers and old acquaintances have nothing to talk about. What, we wonder, did their life-experiences amount to? And Woody's taciturn nature begins to seem less an idiosyncrasy and more a matter of the accident of his being born and living in the part of the country that he did. We wonder if Kate, a city girl by her own admission (whatever that means in Nebraska), might have seemed at some point to offer something more -- but in fact she didn't, and now Kate is beaten down too, and Bobby has no clear grip on a future for himself. The image of "success" in the movie is Bobby's brother, Ross (Bob Odenkirk), a news anchor at a small TV station in Billings. Bobby himself works selling audio and video equipment . . . but it doesn't seem to mean much to him.
So it's both ironic and pathetically apt that Bobby is drawn to his father's clear goal -- to go to Lincoln, get that million dollars, and buy himself a truck (even though he doesn't drive any more). Just the idea that the old man's life has purpose must be, at least in part, what drives Bobby to take his dad to Lincoln. And, without giving too much away, the trip is both a failure and a success. What that amounts to for Bobby's future isn't clear, though. What will change for him back in Billings? Will he, as his mother fears, end up like his father -- cranky and old, with a life that has nothing to show for it, still stuck in a beautifully desolate landscape into which he will disappear. The scenes of a visit to the cemetery in Woody's old home town and to Woody's childhood home (now empty and deserted) are high moments in this movie, and they offer no consolation. There is some human tenderness, but it isn't sentimentally inflated, and its effects are likely to be short-lived at best.
This is well worth seeing, though -- much better, I think, than Payne's "The Descendants." The way it connects age to place is very effectively done, and the performances, large and small, couldn't be better.
I loved this film.
It opens with a shot of a bandy-legged, bony-faced old man with a ragged halo of white hair, ambling along the side of a freeway near, as we find out, the town of Billings, Montana.
Turns out he thinks he`s won a million on a lottery scam, so naturally he takes to the road - to Lincoln, Nebraska - to claim his prize. This doesn`t make his wife or his two sons too happy. In the end, one of them, Davie (played with a wonderful restraint by Will Forte) agrees to drive his dad, whom everyone calls Woody, the many miles to Lincoln.
A road movie!
Well, yes, but this one`s shot in gorgeous black-and-white, and manages mostly to avoid the cliches and pitfalls of the many `young man and his dad bonding on the road` movies - though not all of them: director Alexander Payne (whose superb Sideways was a very different kind of road movie) isn`t perfect, though his film comes close.
Bruce Dern, looking like a startled, irascible, ravenous old buzzard much of the time, has found, at the age of 77, the role of his career. He plays Woody without a trace of sentimentality (he`s had plenty of practice over the last fifty years, after all) and the merest hint of a twinkle in the eye when required.
June Squibb is superb as his small, outspoken and equally irritable wife, who joins them on the road.
Most of this moving and at times very funny film takes place in a small town I have no hesitation in calling Nowheresville, Nebraska. A lot of the state is bleak and unpoulated (like most of the States, in fact) and Hawthorne exemplifies the kind of place you might go to die or possibly to kill someone, more likely the latter. The whole town looks terminally closed - apart from the one or two rundown bars. Payne treads a fine line between patronising the town`s inhabitants and treating them with the respect any characters in a drama deserve. He settles for a kind of deadpan indulgence, with lots of close-ups, which works just fine.
They`re in Hawthorne since that`s where Woody grew up, and a whole posse of brothers, old friends, foes and lovers, as well as hangers-on, congregate around the grizzled old man who they assume has already won and pocketed his prize.
The imposing Stacy Keach has a few good scenes as an old associate of Woody`s, and it`s great to see two ageing, often neglected actors in the same film.
The photography is peerless, the script near-faultless, the performances vivid and credible. The original music by Mark Orton is a boon, not least due to the fact that no songs are used, no generic `rootsy` music, but rather a set of brief, apt, specially composed diverse pieces, which fit organically into each scene in which we they`re used - usually during the silent driving interludes on the road.
Dern underplays to tremendous effect. If you think he`s an actor who seldom smiles, wait till you see this!
Apparently, Nicholson, Duvall, Hackman and, interestingly, Robert Forster were all considered for the lead. All I can say is, they chose the right man, and then some.
Dern deserves all the real prizes that are surely coming his way in a couple of months (he`s already bagged the Best Actor award at Cannes). This is a testament to the ragged dreams of an old man, but in its way a film like this can`t help but also be a tribute to an old actor who`s quietly, without fuss, having the time of his life.
Beautiful. Do see it.
on 23 December 2013
"Nebraska" (2013 release; 110 min.) is the latest film from Alexander Payne ("Sideways", "The Descendants"). When the film opens, we see an old guy, whom we later learn is Woody Grant (played by Bruce Dern), walking past the city limit sign of Billings, Montana. A police officer driving by pulls over and asks him where he's going. Woody just points beyond the horizon. It eventually comes out that Woody's got a sweepstakes letter stating that 'we are authorized to pay you $1 million dollars' and Woody, who can't drive anymore, is determined to collect the money from the sweepstakes company (located in Lincoln, NE). Woody's wife Kate (played by June Squibb) doesn't know what to do anymore as Woody has 'escaped' on several times from the house to walk all the way to Lincoln. Woody's son David (played by Will Forte) feels sorry for the old man. When asking Woody why he simply doesn't send in the letter to Lincoln via regular mail, Woody explains "I'm not trusting the mail with 1 million dollars!", so David offers to drive to Nebraska. They decide along the way to make a stop in Hawthorne, NE to meet up with long-lost cousins and uncles. At this point we are a good 30 min. into the movie. To tell you more would ruin your viewing experience, you'll just have to see for yourself how it all plays out.
Several comments: first and foremost, this film is a love letter and ode to the Midwest, and Nebraska in particular, from director Alexander Payne, himself a native Cornhusker. But beware, the film is drenched in nostalgia, if not melancholy, as life in small town America seems to have lost a step or two along the way, take a look at (fictional) Hawthorne, NE, with its run-down main street and widespread unemployment. Second, "Nebraska" is filmed in dramatic back and white, and the movie brings gorgeous shots as Woody and David drive from Montana to Nebraska by way of Wyoming and South Dakota. For a while, the film does feel like a true road movie, and it makes you want to hit the road yourself. Third, in the gatherings in Hawthorne with family and old acquaintances, you can't but help feeling sorry for the whole bunch, as everyone is convinced that Woody truly is a millionaire and they feel entitled to some of that money, reinforcing the message that money does bring out the worst in people. Last but certainly not least, much has been made by the acting performances in this film, in particular Bruce Dern as the cranky ol' man (he won Best Actor at the Cannes film festival earlier this year), and deservedly so. But for me the true scene stealer in this film is June Squibb as his feisty ol' lady Kate, with her non-stop comments about everything and everyone. At one point, they go visit the graves of family and friends in Hawthorne, and Kate sees the grave of an old flame, just watch what she does next!
The film premiered to great acclaim at the Cannes film festival 6 months ago, and it finally opened at my local art-house theatre here in Cincinnati recently. I went to see it right away. The screening I saw this at was very well attended, and I think this film has all the makings of a solid hit on the art-house theatre circuit, and maybe even more if the film does well in the upcoming awards season. Bottom line: "Nebraska" is a delightful comedy-drama with some serious and nostalgic undertones, and fantastic acting performances. If you are in the mood for something that is miles away from your standard Hollywood fare, you cannot go wrong with this. "Nebraska is HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!.
on 9 April 2015
The problem with the American Dream is that it isn't big enough to go around. Everyone wants to hit the jackpot, win the lottery, have a slice of the pie. But few among the millions who live along its margins will do so. Life on the edges is a free-for-all where everyone hustles to get by. One or two jobs aren't even enough in some cases, the spending power of the dollar having topped out in about 1970. Since then it's been sink or swim with lots of people going under. Those portrayed in this film have already sunk, abandoned by the Dream, their country and its government. Meanwhile the thin sliver of rich at the top has never been richer, though this great social evil is not addressed by the film.
One of the first things to go when a civilisation crumbles is civitas (civility). The people in this film, by and large, are not civil. They are coarse, rude, argumentative and belligerent (sometimes). They are also stupefied by beer, television, crassness and fecklessness. They have little of value to say to one another and wouldn't know how to say it if they did. These comments are not meant to ridicule them but to condemn the conditions in which they are expected to live. This is what inequality will do to any society, the American one included. It creates needless suffering and desperation of the kind we see here. As such, it is not always easy to watch. Although nominally a dark and sardonic comedy in the Coen Brothers mode of storytelling, it is also profoundly depressing. Suitably filmed in stark black and white, it takes us on a journey through the American heartland (the Midwest). Nebraska, as re-told in this modern fairy tale, is the golden pot at the end of the rainbow, a place where winners of a lottery can pick up their million dollars. Or so it seems to the gullible, or those, like Woody Grant, the elderly father in this story, who are suffering from dementia.
Woody lives in Billings, Montana with his wife Kate. They have two grown sons, David and Ross. David works as a salesman in a stereo equipment store in town. Ross, the elder son, is a local TV news reader. Both sons are somewhat estranged from the family, especially from their selfish father, but David has the bigger heart of the two and is thus the more forgiving of past parental transgressions.
Woody keeps walking out the front door of the house. He's like a dog that gets loose from its chain. He wanders through the town half lucidly, not really sure of why he's there or where he's going. His actual quixotic quest is to get to Lincoln, capital of Nebraska, to collect his million dollars. He thinks he'll walk there, a journey of almost a thousand miles.
David gets in the car to fetch his father. Woody is at the police station, picked up by the local cops while walking along a dangerous section of the highway. This has happened before, Woody escaping and David going after him. Ross thinks Dad should just be locked away in a rest home, the polite term nowadays for penitentiaries for the elderly. But David will not allow it. Kate, the mother, seems curiously non-committal, so it's hard to gauge what she might want.
Rational explanations will not work with Woody. He believes he has won the prize and will go to Nebraska to collect it. At wit's end, David finally agrees to drive him there. Thus the story becomes a buddy and road flick, father and son bonding during their long journey, one that will produce strange encounters and happenings along the way, especially with relatives of theirs and townsfolk in the town of Hawthorne, the place where Woody grew up and the family lived for a time when the boys were much younger.
Word spreads among the locals that Woody has won his million. It's bogus as David keeps trying to tell them but nobody believes him. They think Woody has won the jackpot for real. This brings out the worst in them — jealousy, spite, envy, aggression. Woody owes some of them past debts and now they want to collect. David, a quiet and gentle person, gets caught in the middle more than once in trying to defend his father. Most of the film is a comedy of drunken errors, as people aren't lucid enough to know what they are saying to one another. This is the sardonic humour.
But a great sadness and weariness hangs over the proceedings as the wild goose chase takes us from one ugly, decaying town to the next on the endless highway to nowhere. Bad food, seedy bars, cheap motels — you can picture it. And the people.
David is a loving being. Despite everything, he is loyal to his father and treats him with dignity, even if the father is long past knowing what dignity is. They get to Lincoln and Woody learns the truth regarding his mission. On the way back to Montana he wears a baseball cap given to him by the company in Lincoln. 'Prize Winner' is what it says. Woody wears it, oblivious to the pathos and irony it announces.
Because of David's love the story is redemptive in the end. "All I ever had was Redemption Song" Bob Marley once plaintively sang to us. It is this too that David sings from his heart as they drive home together, even if Woody can no longer hear the music.
on 6 February 2014
A truly multi layered, entertaining and brilliant film. Some of the best scenes i've witnessed in a film. Funny, tragic, but mostly true to life. No way of explaining the storyline to make it sound entertaining, just easily crept its way into my top five. Brilliant
on 7 February 2014
This is a 'road movie' with some absolutely classic comedy moments. Director, Alexander Payne, already has `About Schmidt' and `Sideways' as his road movie credits. This film retains the sadness of the former but retains the comedy elements of both. This is very much like the film ` Paris, Texas.'
The filming (crystal clear black & white) is very insular, homing in on the subjects but also portraying the loneliness and isolation of the Midwest as they drive through the state highways, pass various sign posts, churches, small stores, gas stations and small towns. There are no leaves on the trees; the motels are two stars at best, the bars a bit grubby and down market. The families and their homes are working class. It's impossible to tell what the season is or the time of year! It's grey, it's grim, and things seem hard work and uninspiring.
The film is melancholy; it's about deadpan, silences, looks, glances, stares, but also beautiful comedy timing.
Ultimately it's about relationships - father & son, husband & wife, family & friends. It's about confusion & greed, love & understanding, raw instincts & telling it like it is, and lastly, wonderful characters which all classic films require?
Brilliant film, definitely one of the best I've seen in the last 12 months.
In this unique brilliant film director Alexander Payne effectively captures a place and time and presents us with a simple story of an aging man’s quest to claim a $1million magazine sweepstake prize. Bruce Dern’s Woody Grant is an irascible stubborn man who drinks. He has spent his life in Midwest America and on his way to collect his money in Lincoln, Nebraska accompanied by his son David stops off to visit his older brother and his family in the small town of Hawthorne, where he grew up. In this elegiac film Payne successfully opens a window to a world of small town rural America, of extended families and quiet desperation and acceptance. Although some might consider the narrative to be rambling I think the slow deliberate pacing allows a gentle incisive exploration of Woody’s life, and despite the film’s melancholy contemplative tone there is a rich subtle dry humour which delights. The acting is universally of a high standard with many outstandingly restrained performances and the impressive cinematography and soundtrack is effortlessly understated in this powerfully affecting film.
If you have a heart, a sense of humour or a taste (or any one of the three), you will certainly appreciate "Nebraska" (Oscar 2014 nominee in the best film category). This film comes from the director Alexander Payne (Oscar 2014 nominee), who is known to tell laidback and thoughtful tales of people facing changes in their lives. His new film is shot in black and white (Oscar 2014 nominee for best cinematography), but the views are often exquisite breathtaking. This is an intimate road movie about one family, the dudes, and mainly the father-son squad on a road.
A quiet man Woody (Bruce Dern, Oscar 2014 nominee), a retired mechanic, receives one of those letters - you won a million. And, due to the fact that he "just believes stuff that people tell him", Woody is adamant to claim his money. So the journey begins, Woody is taken from his small town in Montana to his disappearing birthplace in Nebraska on the way to Lincoln, where the million awaits - or so he believes. Once the horde of his relatives gets a whiff of the million, the fun begins (actually, it begins much earlier than that in the film, so you are just enjoying all the fun and kerfuffle the scam sweepstakes letter produced!).
In the end, it's all pretty gory and sad, but it has so many wonderfully funny scenes and dialogues. And in the end, it's just a feel-good movie, very blunt about relationships and friendships and getting old. And I guess about love, the parents-children love as well as love between a man and a woman. Woody's snappy wife, Kate (played by June Squibb, Oscar 2014 nominee), who appears in the beginning nagging and irritating, never stopped loving him.
What a film! I loved it.
on 9 July 2014
Alexander Payne does it again, in a simple film with a plot what is relevant in todays life.
A man wins a million dollars in a lottery sweepstake and needs to drive to Nebraska to collect his winnings, he can't drive and will get there by any means nessacery. Duping his son into driving him, his son tells him its a scam but the dad played beautifully by Bruce Dern won't listen so to shut his dad up they go on a road trip. He goes to his old town he grew up in and the locals get wind of his new 'wealth' and suddenly want a piece of his money 'what he doesn't have' but he is too nice and will lend people money even though he hasn't got it and people including his family trying to take advantage.
Such a simple movie but so elegantly filmed, directed, acted and scripted it is a great film and a shame it never picked up Oscars
I loved the bleak settings for this charming story. Payne films malls and motorways in black and white to enchant them. The small details like the Hell's Angels overtaking turn the banal into the lyrical.
A quest to recover a $1m prize becomes a vehicle to re-examine relationships in a dysfunctional family. Lots of pain, lots of laughs, lots of truth.