BY CHRISTOPHER HASKELL
NOVEMBER 24, 2013
Several questions occurred to me during “Nebraska” that both attribute to the positives of Alexander Payne’s vision and the negatives or shortcomings of the material. The first question, why black-and-white? Researching this, Rotten Tomatoes brought me to an interview with the cast, and their thoughts, with someone stating that Payne’s mother had replied: “it would look stupid in color”. My thoughts were of the contrary. With the wide, expansive shots of the country, I was wanting color, even if grainy or drained, to experience either the coldness or the drab. I get that black-and-white is the extreme of these desires, but it often felt out of place and unwarranted to a degree, begging for a chance to see the colors.
The next question that came to mind were the performances from Bruce Dern and June Squibb and why they have been so acclaimed. Seeing Bruce Dern in an interview, my question was somewhat answered, as you see how coherent and sharp he is, while his character Woody Grant is often silent or short-spoken. And the last thought that occurred to be prevalent throughout the film was how spot-on some of these characters were to people in my life, including my father and my mother, in comparison to the leads. This can both be a testament to the great writing and directing from Alexander Payne, which provides little idiosyncrasies like the stumbling drunk that loses things or the reactions to certain people. Payne nails the dynamic of the small town and those living within it, especially when returning to a small town after being away for quite some time.
“Nebraska” opens with Woody (Dern) attempting to walk to Lincoln, Nebraska from Billings, Montana, which is close to 900 miles, to collect $1 million that was “promised” to him in a sweepstakes clearinghouse letter. With his wife Kate (Squibb) and sons, David (Will Forte) and Ross (Bob Odenkirk) trying to establish that this letter is a total scam, Woody responds by taking off again. Coaxed by the sincerity of his normally cold father, David decides to drive his father to Nebraska, with the hopes of clearing the air and getting to spend some last moments with his drifting father. With a pit stop in Woody’s home town where most of his family still lives as well as his enemies, the film is a comedic and sometimes touching look at a family in the rawest and natural of states. These performances, especially from Bruce Dern and Will Forte are understated at best. There’s a subtlety in these roles that take away the thought of acting. The actors disappear into their roles and you wonder whether they’re acting at all. Also, there’s a cinematic hope that the $1 million will be waiting for them at the end of the rainbow and you’ll have to see the film to find out if there is. “Nebraska” first and foremost is a touching drama, with comedic elements mixed in. Much like Payne’s previous work, it grasps on to certain emotional ideas and runs with them. Although I’ll debate whether black-and-white was necessary, overall I trust the film-maker and believe this to be one of his best works yet.
November 15, 2013
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