MRR Review: "Nebraska"

Photo Credit: Paramount Vantage

MRR Review: "Nebraska"

Rating: R (Language)
Length: 115 minutes
Release Date: November 15, 2013
Directed By: Alexander Payne
Genre: Adventure/Drama

Bruce Dern and Will Forte star in this father-son drama about an aging alcoholic who makes it big in a sweepstakes competition. Dern portrays Woody Grant, a curmudgeonly older man estranged from his son, David. When Woody learns he is the lucky winner of the million-dollar prize in the Mega Sweepstakes Marketing competition, he contacts his son, and the two set off on a road trip from Montana to Nebraska to claim the award.

Over the course of their journey, David and Woody not only fight with each other but with relatives they meet along the way. Woody's alcoholic ways have ensured that he is indebted to numerous family members and family friends. As he and David are forced to prevail upon those old connections for help on their trip, Woody has to confront the people he owes and manipulated. David is understandably less than eager to help him escape accountability, thus making the trip the first time his father has had to deal directly with the consequences of his behavior.

"Nebraska" is a visually stunning film whose cinematography captures the beauty of the Western half of the country, while being completely devoid of color. From deserts to small towns, the film is laden with gorgeous scenery, a stark contrast to the often ugly relationship between the film's main characters. At other times, the backdrop is a barren desert wasteland, which director Alexander Payne uses to mirror the state of Bruce and Woody's relationship and lives.

"Nebraska" is more than just a father-son, cross-country adventure. The film delves deep into the psychology of alcoholism, and the various ways in which our actions affect other people. Woody seems like a selfish, one-dimensional character in the beginning, but you quickly realize that there is more to him than meets the eye. In fact, the viewer gets to know the man at the same time as David does, learning about Woody's past, and the decisions that have led him to where he is now. In spite of winning a million dollars, "Nebraska" lacks any sort of triumphant feel. While other films might choose to use the lottery plot device to justify over-the-top antics, "Nebraska" uses it to raise some surprisingly philosophical questions about the nature of fairness in life.

Bruce Dern does a remarkable job of portraying the surly and selfish Woody Grant, who is a surprisingly complex character underneath his rough exterior. While at first it seems he cares about little else besides himself, his development throughout the film proves otherwise. As they travel across the country, Woody is forced to confront the demons from his past and come to terms with the ways in which his actions affect those he loves. Although he is regularly confronted by old friends and family members, those encounters serve to reinforce the negative aspects of his relationship with his son. While the film focuses on character development and relationship dynamics, it manages to avoid falling into the trap of corniness. In fact, the dialog and development are both understated, making the film a believable ride from start to finish.

Will Forte deserves all the critical acclaim he has received for his portrayal of David Grant. The character, like real people, is far from perfect himself, but he provides a stark contrast to his father in personality and values. In fact, the relationship between the two, including the various ways in which they contrast and complement each other, is what carries the film.

Perhaps the most notable aspect of the film is Payne's bold decision to film the entire movie in black and white. This somber cinematography adds a beautiful yet melancholic atmosphere to the film. "Nebraska" is truly one of the most unique and artistic viewing experiences in recent years, featuring brilliant scene staging and understated dramatic performances. The unique cinematography highlights the drama of the storyline, giving the film an appropriately dreary atmosphere. In fact, at times it feels as if Woody and David are heading for a funeral rather than a million-dollar prize. This interesting choice makes "Nebraska" a remarkably thoughtful and complex film that is surprisingly easy to follow the whole way through.

"Nebraska" is a truly innovative film with a dark and thoughtful atmosphere reminiscent of "The Artist." This down-to-earth look into the life of a wayward father and his estranged son puts a new spin on winning the lottery. "Nebraska" is a tale of confrontation, broken relationships, and the ultimate hope for reconciliation, all themes that are carried off well by the brilliant cast and solid writing.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Tags: Nebraska