Fresh from the success of his previous directorial effort (The Descendents), Alexander Payne has chosen a similarly intimate human story with a beautiful and award-worthy performance from Bruce Dern.
The narrative is relatively simple and secondary to the study of the character however the premise being that Woody (Dern) has received a marketing letter that says he has won a million dollars, he simply has to send it off. Given his lack of trust in the mail system, Woody attempts to get from Montana to Nebraska to collect his winnings. Eventually, Woody’s son David agrees to drive Woody to Nebraska to prove that this letter is junk. On the way, the two drive through Woody’s hometown leading David to reconnect in a way which they’d not realised.
Payne’s stylistic decision to release the film in monochrome is extremely telling in the intentions of the film as a throwback to classic road films and highlights the landscapes beauty as a perfect backdrop two the two leads.
Bruce Dern’s Woody and Will Forte’s David have fantastic chemistry and carry the film through its various elements – such as visiting estranged family or approaching the subject of Woody’s clear reliance on alcohol. Dern gives Woody clear emotional depth and layers the character so richly that the audience is left guessing whether he truly believes he has won the million dollars.
On top of the backdrop of the road movie is the notion of returning to a childhood home. Woody finds many memories around the small town of Hawthorne – not all of them desired. It seems that when people believe Woody has come into money, suddenly everybody is owed their piece. This is particularly pertinent in Woody’s old business partner Ed (played deliciously evil by Stacy Keach) who decides that he is owed from way back when.
Nebraska is a truly special film that is intimate and highlights the relationship between father and son and that as one ages, the acceptance of mortality is a key part of life. Shot beautifully, acted magnificently and with a heartfelt script, Nebraska is a fantastic film, which deserves any awards recognition that comes its way.