Rated: R for some language. Reviewed by: Jim Release date: November 15, 2013 Released by: Paramount Vantage
Alexander Payne's latest movie, the first he's done monochromatic with anamorphic lenses and digital cameras (rather sumptuously by Phedon Papamichael) may connect with fans of earlier endeavors like About Schmidt and The Descendants with the aura of Peter Bogdonavich's The Last Picture Show looming over it. It also resonates in some ways like The Straight Story (which starred the late Richard Farnsworth and Sissy Spacek) did when it comes to human dignity and being accepting of pursuits that you may not approve of.
The director of Sideways is in his element for Nebraska starring Bruce Dern and Will Forte, the Cornhusker State being the one where he's shot four of his features, including Citizen Ruth (which starred Dern's daughter Laura) and Election and can hit his satirical marks. Especially when it concerns the love of money and intelligence in the Heartland of America. A sardonic examination protrudes with awkwardness and warmth notably about familial strife.
From Billings, Montana very disheveled boozy Woody, a surprising, uncharacteristically laid back Dern of Django Unchained and much further back Black Sunday knows he's a million dollar recipient from a Publisher's Clearing House type of contest, determined to take the 850 mile trek to Nebraska to collect it. Son David (Will Forte of MacGruber, Rock of Ages and Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs Pt.2) can't make him realize that it's an advertising lure while he's constantly under reproach by haggish wife.
While his eldest son Ross (Bob Odenkirk who was Saul Goodman on the very popular just concluded Breaking Bad series) is preoccupied professionally as an anchorman, an acquiescing David sees an opportunity to connect with an important scruffy person in his life. The original screenplay not collaborated on by Payne (a first in his films but still sharing his authorial voice) from Bob Nelson relates the shifting expectations and relationships through extension in kin where Woody has shown an unlearned unselfishness.
In this father/son excursion that hardly gets overwrought rhythmically buoyed by mostly spare guitar-lead folk music from Mark Orton as David struggles to find meaning as his dad's past comes into place when they reach the hometown of Hamilton where Woody's brother Ray (Rance Howard) resides.
Dern (who apparently wasn't the director's first choice, Gene Hackman was) who has had some decent, if minor character roles in recent years (like "Monster" opposite an amazing Charlize Theron) capitalizes in a leading one where he has that naturalistic grace to open the shades, so to speak, on Woody where an onlooker can really take note. Even Forte (mostly known for his work on SNL) offers more nuance than expected in a less kitschy way.
In a gently, observational way around an arid, rustic area (in more ways than one), Payne understands the closeness even nosiness of it all, expressing wit and poignancy with timelessness through the landscapes and enclaves. In moving at its own pace and precision (which may not be up to speed to less discerning viewers) Nebraska also nicely prickles with an elegiac mood from the subordinate roles behind Woody and David. Squibb is acerbically amusing in her candor while Angela McEwan shines as a former girlfriend and Stacy Keach as a driven old friend and business partner. In this caustic tale, one truthfully calibrated with sentiment Kevin Ratray and Tim Driscoll appropriate enough comic relief car aficionado nephews, the kind of duo that Mike Judge envisioned for MTV in full arrested development mode.