Like an American alternative to our own Mike Leigh, Alexander Payne’s movies take time to let their mature stars burrow under your skin.
He works with great actors, too – Jack Nicholson (About Schmidt – 2002), Paul Giamatti and Thomas Haden Church (Sideways – 2004) and George Clooney (The Descendants – 2012).
Given that the latter two films earned Payne Oscars for best adapted screenplay and nods for directing, don’t be surprised if this love letter to his home state doesn’t become a contender next February.
Bruce Dern plays 77-year-old father, Woody Grant, who believes a piece of junk mail will turn him into a millionaire.
Setting off from Billings, Montana to head for Lincoln, Nebraska, he wants to settle some old scores en route, then claim his prize from Mega Sweepstakes Marketing.
A cross between David Kelly’s Waking Ned (1998) and Richard Farnsworth’s The Straight Story (1999), the essence of the story is about son David (Will Forte) trying to understand his father so much that he’s prepared to join him on an inevitably doomed trip.
Joining them for the ride is brother Ross (Bob Odenkirk) and no-nonsense mum Kate (a brilliant June Squibb).
There are insights into old age, pearls of wisdom and gags galore, all wrapped up in a coating that’s more akin to a bitter lemon than sugar.
After the wonderful Amour last year, this is another fine study about getting older and striving for freedom despite a weakening mind and body.
In terms of the look of the movie, digital black and white (as opposed to the richer tones of processed film) feels like a lost opportunity compared with the option of simply desaturating colours.
But the quicker shoot did the older actors favours – right across the board, Nebraska has some of the year’s best performances.