Monday, November 3, 2014


Directed by Alexander Payne.
2013. Rated R, 114 minutes.
Bruce Dern
June Squibb
Will Forte
Stacy Keach
Bob Odenkirk
Mary Louise Wilson
Rance Howard
Devin Ratray
Tim Driscoll
Missy Doty

If you were certain that you'd won a million dollars and only had to get to a particular place to collect, wouldn't you go? That's the position Woody (Dern) finds himself in. He has to get to Lincoln, Nebraska to claim his prize. He's going to do it even if he has to walk from his home in Billings, Montana, over seven hundred miles away. However, chances are overwhelming that there is no million dollar prize waiting for him. Like many of us, he's received one of those sweepstakes in the mail that says "You have won $1,000,000 if..." and then gives some impossible condition to meet. The whole thing is just a tactic to entice you into buying magazine subscriptions. Unlike most of us, he takes off walking in the general direction of Lincoln. Since he's done this before, the local police just pick him up and call a member of his family to come to get him. In this case, it's his son David (Forte). Against the rest of the family's wishes, since the old man just won't shut up about it nor stop trying to get there, David decides to load his old man up in the car and drive to Lincoln, himself. A rather interesting road trip ensues.

The first thing many of us will notice is director Alexander Payne's decision to use black and white instead of color. I'm not sure if he ever addressed this publicly, but I have some theories on why he did this. All of them revolve around our protagonist. First, black and white conjures ideas of a simpler time. It makes the town and the world he lives in feels smaller. In that smaller world, that Woody inhabits alone, it's entirely possible to walk as far as necessary to collect his money. It is also a representation of how he sees things at this point in his life: all black and white. There are only two possibilities: getting to Lincoln and not getting to Lincoln. Needless to say, he finds the latter unacceptable. Finally, this style of shooting is an extension of Woody, himself. The man is simply not as lucid as he once was. He continues to function, but not with his faculties fully intact. The lack of color is symbolic of this. Personifying all of this is Bruce Dern. His brilliant portrayal conveys everything that I've said. Amazingly, he manages to avoid becoming a caricature. It would've been easy to give us a performance that drills one aspect of Woody repeatedly into our head. Instead, Dern gives us a fully formed man, albeit one who has a bit less of a grip on reality that he once did.

While Dern is indeed great here, the real shining star for me is June Squibb as his wife Kate. The black and white photography effectively represents her, too. More accurately, it reps her nostalgia for the good ol' days. She spends most of the movie reminiscing about the past. During these times, she provides the film with most of its humor and emotion. Whenever she appears, the movie is injected with a vibrancy lacking in the depiction of the relationship between Woody and son. It's a magnificent performance in what's meant to be a thankless role. After all, she's the one constantly wanting to tell Woody 'no.' Woody's even formulated her into a villain, in his mind. Also adding some life to the proceedings. Also adding some life to the proceedings are some low-brow laughs we get courtesy of Cole (Ratray) and Bart (Driscoll), the couple's nephews. Nothing they do is terribly consequential, but they are fun. Later on, Stacy Keach has a nice turn as Woody's old business partner.

The black and white photography, the various people we meet, and the stubbornness of the old man are all just part of the journey we take with Woody. For some, the knock may be that it's a journey with a pre-ordained conclusion. In most movies, that would be a serious detriment. Here, we realize early on that the real point is seeing how everyone involved deals with what any rational person knows is coming. Believe me, there are a number of irrational folks besides our hero to add some drama. All of those ingredients combine to make Nebraska a fun watch that becomes tinged with sadness when we think of what the rest of Woody's life holds.


  1. Definitely one of my favorite films of last year. I love the look of it as well as the fact that it's about family and a man trying to reach his destination with the help of his son.

    1. Shaping up that way for me, too. The look is fantastic. On top of that Dern and Squibb are tremendous.

  2. It was a lot better than I thought it was going to be, and I loved the score. Great review!

    1. Thanks. I didn't even touch on the score, but it was very good.