Film Review: Nebraska

Wednesday 10 September 2014 by


Nebraska tells the story of Woody Grant (played by Oscar nominee Bruce Dern) who receives a letter saying that he has won a million dollars and decides to walk from Montana to the company headquarters in Lincoln, Nebraska to collect his winnings in person (he won’t trust the mail man with $1,000,000). His family of course know that it is a ploy from a Reader’s Digest type magazine to get more subscriptions but are unable to sway him. Son David (Will Forte) decides that, as Woody will not be swayed, he will drive him to Nebraska and make a stop to see the family still living there on the way. Once in Nebraska, they are joined by Woody’s wife, Kate (June Squibb) and eldest son, Ross (Bob Odenkirk). And that’s about it plot wise.

Nebraska is a quiet, gentle film that values character over lavish plot and is, stylistically, much more akin to director Alexander Payne’s earlier works such as Election than later works such as The Descendants. The use of black and white film feels like a necessary choice rather than an attempt to be offbeat. It strengthens the atmosphere and sense of the isolated landscapes as well as the weariness of its characters and settings.

I don’t want to say too much about what happens in the film as I feel that will slightly spoil the joy of watching it. It is beautifully shot and filled with wonderful performances. Will Forte, who is best known for comedy (30 Rock, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, SNL), shines in a dramatic role.

The film feels like an examination of family and loss, a note on how little we can actually know about the lives of those closest to us, selfishness and the insensitivity that people can exhibit when not viewing a situation with compassion and understanding. It’s not out and out drama but I would be cautious to label it a comedy-drama as the comedic moments that it contains feel very centred in their situations, never forced or over the top. It’s the sort of comedy we all encounter every day, little moments, and those that, in life, you look back on with a laugh or cry view. While there are notes of sadness it doesn’t feel like a sad film, when you finish watching it you feel… warm. I really think that might be the best word for it. Both times I watched it I felt heartened and couldn’t help but smile.

Sky OnDemand currently have a colour version available to view, however, while watching it I felt that it didn’t really add much to the experience. It did give you more of a sense of season due to the hues of the low winter sun but this was only very early on in the film, once they were on the road the colour’s impact felt a little lost. I feel this film should be viewed in its original black and white format as the director intended.

If I could sum this film up with one word it would simply be, ‘wonderful’. I cannot recommend it highly enough, it’s one of the best films I have seen in a long time and a must watch. Frankly, Bruce Dern was robbed of that Oscar.

Nebraska (2013, Dir. Alexander Payne) is available on DVD, BluRay and Sky OnDemand now.

Nerissa is a writer, mummy and rather proud geek living in the countryside. In between playtime, cuddles and fun times she loves to read, knit, bake and write Young Adult and children’s fiction.

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