There is some mighty fine acting going on in the new film, "Nebraska." The glib and gifted director of "Sideways" and "The Descendants" has once again constructed a witty and wistful film about ordinary people. And it's extraordinary.
It begins as Woody Grant (Bruce Dern) receives one of those "Publisher's Clearing House" type notifications stating that he's won a million dollars. The cantankerous curmudgeon is convinced it's true and takes off on foot from Billings, MT, headed for the sweepstakes office in Lincoln, NE. It's probably Woody's last fantasy and come hell or high water, he's going to claim his windfall.
Woody's shrew of a wife, Kate (June Squibb), refers to him as "a dumb cluck" and wants him put away in a nursing home. But Woody's somewhat estranged son, Davis (Will Forte), takes pity on his father and agrees to take him to Lincoln. Road trip bonding is inevitable but it's a wonderful, atypical odyssey of discovery.
As they set out against the backdrop of Big Sky country, we are drawn into the beauty of never-ending landscapes and backwater towns. One of which is Hawthorne, NE, where Woody grew up. We meet what's left of his peculiar family and "friends." Seems a lot of them come out of the woodwork when they learn of Woody's "good fortune." When confronted with the truth, Woody becomes a laughing stock. But as their journey progresses, Woody and David begin to know and, eventually, love one another in their distinctly different ways.
Payne made an outstanding decision to film "Nebraska" in black & white which, ironically adds to the "real world" feel of this textured work of art. The sprawling scenery becomes a character in itself, depicting the beauty as well as the emptiness that the world has to offer.
The cast of characters are as kooky, kitschy and, at times, kind as they come. Will Forte is innately inquisitive about his father's past and also manages to be sweet when Woody, a man of few words, gives little insight. June Squibb is a scene stealer with the best lines, all of which are derogatory. But it's Bruce Dern with his hang-dog, ornery countenance coupled with a brutally blunt persona who owns this melancholy masterpiece. His portrayal of an old man with two simple wishes (a new pick-up and a compressor) and his life-long dream of being respected, is the best work of his entire career.
Already, Dern (age 77) has won the best actor award at Cannes for his performance in "Nebraska." Recently, he's received a Golden Globe nomination for best performance by an actor. Look for an Oscar nod as well. Dern has put a great deal of time and effort in his career without many accolades.
"Nebraska" has provided him with the showcase to demonstrate how truly gifted an actor he is.
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