Summary: Few stories are told with impact when highlighting the mundane, the common and the broken. This film unabashedly suffuses the screen with the image, language and lives of a mid-American family. It is this unstoppable honesty that makes Nebraska not a heroic film, but an honest one. Brilliant film-making and unquestionable acting.
Full Review: Bruce Dern is in his best role ever, as Woody, an aged, honest and cantankerous father and husband who believes he has won a $1 million sweepstakes prize (as notified by a typical postal mail letter). His son, David (Will Forte), is drawn into the plot and (knowingly) acquiesces to drive Woody to Lincoln, Nebraska to collect his "winnings".
The trip is a plot device from which a recital of Woody's life can be hung and revisited. In the trip, the father/son duo venture to Woody's hometown of Hawthorne, Nebraska on their drive to Lincoln. In Hawthorne, all the clichés come to life- the old girl friend, the jilted business partner, the crazy relatives- in a portrayal that would seem plastic if it weren't so honest. The brilliance of this film lays at three main levels- the dialog, the direction and the acting.
The dialog here is so pregnant with rural life idiosyncrasies it might seem alien to those who haven't experienced it. But to the native-born, Nebraska will be an almost eerie nod to daily life. The speech, the references, the values and the conflicts all make pinpoint accuracy of the story of the rural mid-American family. There are several strong segments, but the most poignant is an interaction with Woody and David at an old tavern in Hawthorne. As they sit down, Woody orders a beer. David recoils, not wanting to join in. Woody says to his son, "C'mon, take a beer with your old man. Be somebody." The brevity and matter-of-fact harshness of the dialog rips open the idea that this movie is a "comedy" in the popular American comedy sense. There are some powerful things said here, and they need to be heard.
The direction and production of this film is perfect. Filmed in black and white, the nuance of texture becomes so important to understanding the people and their lives. There is no assumption of hope here, but there is always the unacknowledged homestead mentality that never quits.
Finally, the acting is absolutely perfect. Bruce Dern and Will Forte are unquestionable in their characters. This may be the best character Stacy Keach has ever played.
While I think this is a great film, it does have some foul language- commensurate with the standard verbal repertoire of its portrayed characters. You won't want your children watching this film, as the "R" rating for language is modestly deserved. Parents who find this film to be within their tastes may well want to watch it with their older teenage children (especially father/sons), not because of the redeeming nature of the characters, but perhaps in spite of that.
If you grew up in rural towns or mid-America, this film will be as much about dealing with your issues as it will be about watching these characters wrestling with theirs. If you haven't seen this yet, this film should immediately be placed on the top of your Netflix or Amazon Video queues. One of the few films I will buy a BluRay of. I will be watching this for many years.
One of the best films in the last decade.
Amazon Link: http://buff.ly/1qQhO1o
Review by Kim Gentes