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Nebraska - Review

Nebraska

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

ALEXANDER Payne has long been a keen observer of dysfunctional family dynamics as evidenced by films such as The Descendants, About Schmidt and Sideways. That strong run continues with Nebraska.

A black and white road trip drama that serves as a father-son bonding experience, the film is an enjoyably involving comedy-drama that serves up two terrific leading roles for Bruce Dern and Will Forte, as well as a delicious supporting turn from June Squibb.

Dern plays tempestuous Missouri father Woody Grant who has become convinced that he’s won a million dollar magazine sweepstake and will stop at nothing to head to Nebraska to claim it, even if that means walking.

As his behaviour becomes ever more erratic and unpredictable, his son, David (Forte), grudgingly agrees to drive him there, even though he knows it’ll be a waste of time, and sets out on a journey that will ultimately help him to understand his father and his family more.

Payne’s film works on several levels. Primarily, it’s the vividly drawn characters but their journey also enables the writer-director to issue a bittersweet love song to America’s Mid-West and many of its changing landscapes and lapsing traditions. It’s beautifully shot, with the black and white cinematography from Phedon Papamichael lending it a more classic vibe.

The human drama is first-rate, too, and as subtle and rewarding as so much of Payne’s work often is. True, there are occasional laugh out loud moments, but this is more of a slow-burning comedy-drama that rewards the patient viewer.

Dern is terrific as the stubbon, beligerent old codger at the heart of proceedings, the type of dad we’d all find a nightmare, yet who exhibits traits (both good and frustrating) that we can probably all relate to in some way, while Forte is quietly compelling as the everyman son, whose own life is quietly unravelling around him. The growing bond between then two men, as they re-connect, gives rise to a genuinely touching denouement.

But there’s solid support, too, not least from the aforementioned Squibb, whose long-suffering wife walks off with a couple of the movie’s best moments (and put-downs), and who is fully deserving of the awards buzz currently surrounding her.

Stacy Keach, Bob Odenkirk and Rance Howard also make their mark in some way as various friends, acquaintances and relatives along the way.

And while Payne’s tone may ultimately err towards the melancholy (especially with its often sad observations on life), you won’t mind a bit as you’ll be so engaged in the characters that it’s a pleasure to spend time in their company.

Sincere, heartfelt and genuinely engaging, Nebraska continues to underline Payne’s reputation as one of America’s premiere filmmakers.

Certificate: 15
Running time: 110mins
UK Release Date: December 6, 2013