I was playing golf with my Dad the other day and as I watched him swing the club, I realize that it (his swing) wasn’t what it used to be. It’s natural to lose your flexibility as you age and as he so often says “Getting old sucks.” It does. It’s true. Other than the accumulated wisdom of your time on Earth, there’s really not an upside to aging. More trips to the doctor? Injuries are easier to come by and you tend to forget things here and there. So…yeah, getting old sucks. Alexander Payne’s films have always embodied the human spirit and while his movies aren’t always uplifting, they do say more about life in general than most others that prattle on it endlessly. Payne’s characters are salt of the Earth and it seems that it takes a special breed of actor to play one of his characters. Like Sideways and The Descendants before it, Nebraska takes a look at the side of life that we didn’t know (or wanted to know) exists. Uplifting? Not hardly. But let’s take a trip from Montana to Nebraska and see what we come across.
Woody Grant (Bruce Dern) might be a millionaire! Then again, he might not be. He’s just been sent a “Publisher’s Clearing House” sort of marketing flyer saying he might have already won a million dollars. Woody, broken down by a life of alcoholism, has Alzheimer’s and is literally not the man he once was. His son, David (Will Forte), a generally nice guy, has offered to escort his father from Billings, Montana to Lincoln, Nebraska in order to “collect his prize.” Along the way, they meet some of Woody’s old acquaintances, all of which are now privy to his newfound information about his potential riches. And all of them want a piece of the action, namely Ed Peagram (Stacey Keach). Woody and David continue their journey only to be accompanied by Woody’s wife, Kate (June Squibb) and David’s older brother, Ross (Bob Odenkirk). Suffice it to say that the journey is far more important than the destination as they reach Nebraska.
I enjoyed Nebraska for the writing and the acting, but it’s not an uplifting movie and probably something that I’ll not watch twice a year. The front of the box exclaims “One of those movies I’ll watch for the rest of my life!” Well more power to you, Mr. Whipp but as much appreciation that I have for the film, I need to be uplifted. I was reminded of The Last Picture Show that shows us the “other” side of America, one that most of us live in. Payne has captured the human spirit for sure and this ragtag cast has done a fine job of bringing his vision to life. I’d not thought that Bruce Dern would garner another Oscar nomination (his previous one for Coming Home in 1979) and ex-SNL cast member Will Forte playing it low key. That and June Squibb hamming it up as well as Stacey Keach – quite the lucrative cast! In short, Nebraska is a great film with fine performances but I found it a bit too depressing for multiple viewings, still like all of Payne’s films it begs to be seen.
Video: How’s it look?
I’ve often said that the most beautiful thing is watching a widescreen black and white film. Nebraska is shown in a lovely 2.40:1 AVC HD image that seems so full of life, despite lacking color. Detail is exquisite, showcasing the age and life that Bruce Dern shows on his face. Little things like the facial stubble, the little signs in the bar and even the print on the “winning ticket.” Contrast and black levels work well off another and we see some of the sparse landscapes that make up the great plains. This is a beautifully-shot film.
Audio: How’s it sound?
The box is a bit misleading as we see DTS HD Master Audio track and think wild thoughts. I’d advise you not to get your hopes up as this is about as basic as it comes. Granted, there are some times when the surrounds kick in, but by and large this is about as dialogue-driven as it gets. Vocals come across as crisp and clear, lacking any distortion and though a bit quiet at times, it’s no fault of the sound mix. While not loud and in your face, it’s not needed in the least.
Supplements: What are the extras?
Unfortunately we only get one supplement. I figure that if Paramount can come out with a new version of Pain and Gain, this one should certainly be in the queue.
The Making of Nebraska – Exclusive to the Blu-ray, this features just about everything you’d want to know about the film, from the casting to the screenplay and even why black and white was chosen as the film stock. It’s a very immersive and informative look at the film.