NEW YORK FILM FESTIVAL: There is a magical and profound power that is exuded from Alexander Payne‘s film “Nebraska.” I loved just about every second of it. Written by Bob Nelson, the black-and-white dramedy takes us through the beautiful and rural midwest showcasing opulent and lavish cinematography by Phedon Papamichael. And let’s not forget the trio of stunning performances from Oscar-nominee Bruce Dern, Will Forte, and June Squibb.
The film tells the story of an aging and ailing Woody (Dern) and his son David (Forte) as they venture off from Montana to Nebraska to collect a million dollar prize that Woody believes he has won.
I’ve long thought that Alexander Payne was one of the more overrated writer/directors working today. Winning two Oscars for screenplay, only one of them was warranted. I merely enjoyed his film “Election” over ten years ago, couldn’t find the emotional connection in “About Schmidt” and found myself perplexed by the love that poured in for “The Descendants.” His Oscar-winning film “Sideways” was the only film that lived up to the promise and still retains its magic on repeated viewings. The Paramount Vantage film presents an impeccable example of Payne’s directorial skills and style when they’re used with the right material. “Nebraska” is Alexander Payne’s best film, bar none. He creates an intimate setting, even when driving cross-country or walking around an abandoned home, Payne keeps the story close and the responses authentic.
Bruce Dern is perfectly used and exquisitely raw presenting the actor’s best outing of his career. As the co-anchor of the story, Dern is finally given a chance to show what Hollywood has missed out on for over fifty years. Touchingly reserved through most of the narrative, Dern allows Woody to open up to the audience for the briefest of moments that works beautifully. It’s an Oscar-worthy performance.
Will Forte surprisingly underplays and buries his normal comedic ticks and beats that made him so successful on “Saturday Night Live.” His David searches and finds many of the mysteries that embody the enigma of his alcoholic father, giving Forte an ability to connect fully with the audience. He is equally as affecting as co-star Dern and this will hopefully lead him into more complex and audacious roles like this in the future.
The wonderful and delightful June Squibb steals the show. Getting the film’s biggest laughs and in many ways, offering herself up as the emotional pillar in many aspects of the narrative, Squibb is someone who could walk her way right into your heart. Nelson’s writing, especially in the creation of Kate, Woody’s wife, is freshly executed. Say hello to one of your Supporting Actress nominees.
Other supporting players giving their all is Stacy Keach playing a sleazy old friend of Woody’s and Bob Odenkirk as David’s brother Ross, who bounces well off comedian Forte in some of the film’s best scenes.
One aspect that I fell in love with was the score of Mark Orton is musical accompaniment lands precisely with every bar and in every scene. Editor Kevin Tent, who has worked on all of Payne’s previous films, finally has found his groove and maintains a steady pace to tell our story. I have to admit that when I first heard that the film was going to be shot in black and white, I’m immediately thought it was going to used as a gimmick. Nearly five minutes into the movie, you can see exactly why he chose to use it. Papamichael captures the natural elements of light in several scenes, some involving a simple living room, others when we’re in the car with the family.
“Nebraska” is one of the year’s best pictures. Something that will surely appeal to a certain demographic of the Academy. It runs as a light and comedic companion piece to Michael Haneke’s “Amour.” It’s a film that will surely be in contention for several Academy Awards including Best Picture.
The film opens in limited release November 22.