Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Movie Review: Nebraska (2013)

Author's Note:

The cinema is a true form of art.  It should be considered high art along with paintings, sculpture, literature, and music.  One could even argue that the cinema is a combination of all of these into one.

I enjoy the cinema.  I love a good movie.  What is a good movie?  It is a good story, told well, acted well, presented in an aesthetic way that enhances the narrative. 

Not every movie has to move me.  Sometimes I just want to go to a movie for mindless fun.  I want to eat some popcorn, drink some soda, and enjoy the time with my family and friends as we watch explosions on the screen.  Other times, I get the opportunity to watch a movie that is more subtle.  

Movie Review: Nebraska

Since this movie has been out for some time, and was nominated for an Oscar, I feel I can include some  spoilers.  Yes I will be giving away the ending.  Since I do recommend you see this film, if this is an important factor to you please do not read any further than this paragraph.  You will be seeing a slow paced, melodramatic, black and white film.  This is not Bruce Dern's finest work but he does a very good job.  Will Forte is very understated in his best performance to date.  This movie is not for the Michael Bay crowd.


Woody Grant, patriarch of the family, believes he has won a million dollars in a “Publishers Clearing House”-esque style giveaway.  Not trusting the US mail, he sets out on foot from Billings, Montana to Lincoln, Nebraska to claim the prize.  Woody's youngest son, David has just broken up with his girlfriend and needs some time away so agrees to drive his father to Lincoln to humor him.  Along the way they stop in Hawthorne, Nebraska, Woody and Kate's hometown.  Woody tells people about winning the money.  David tries to explain that it is the misunderstanding of a confused old man but the town thinks he is lying.  The trip and stop in Hawthorne reveals to David much about Woody's past and his character.

The Good:

The cast and the acting is spot on.  In watching this movie I don't see one person that is THAT ACTOR first and the character second (think Tom Cruise). You are watching the Grant family deal with the aging alcohol-addled (I won't call him an alcoholic) patriarch and his delusional fantasy that he won a million dollars.  The unmentioned elephant in the room is that the elder Grant appears to be suffering from the early stages of Alzheimer's disease.  Bruce Dern portrays a man dealing with disorientation, mood swings, and behavioral issues including wandering off.  He does not appear to be motivated to care for himself or his family or society.  The question becomes, is this due to age or has he been driven to this by his wife, wonderfully portrayed by June Squibb. June's character of Kate Grant could have been left as a simple one dimensional construct, but the writing and supporting characters flesh out her foibles and hypocrisy.

The cast is rounded out by Bob Odenkirk as the “successful” brother Ross and finally, brilliantly by Stacy Keach as Ed Peagram.

The cinematography is almost a character in itself.  Normally I would look at a black and white movie as an attempt to be art-house, instead I see this as almost a tribute to Ansel Adams work.

As we travel with David and Woody we experience the incredible vistas as well as the small towns.  The beauty is breathtaking.

The Bad:

This story is formulaic and there are no huge surprises here.  You could tell that Ed was going to get his comeuppance and that Woody was going to be humiliated.   It's not even a real surprise that Ross and David try to steal an air compressor and that it goes wrong.  If you are watching Nebraska for an exciting plot, you will be disappointed.

However, If you are looking for a solid story, acted well by terrific actors in beautiful scenery then watch this movie.  This movie was well deserving of it's Oscar nomination.

Final Score:  88 / 100


1. Michael Bay Explosion:
2. Where Should Lucky Travel to Next?
3. Strange Romance: A Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes Photo Album
4. Ansel Adams, The Tetons and The Snake River (1942)

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