dir Alexander Payne
scr Bob Nelson
prd Albert Berger, Ron Yerxa
with Bruce Dern, Will Forte, June Squibb, Bob Odenkirk, Stacy Keach, Mary Louise Wilson, Rance Howard, Tim Driscoll, Devin Ratray, Angela McEwan, Missy Doty, Kevin Kunkel
release US 22.Nov.13, UK 6.Dec.13
13/US Paramount 1h54
On the road: Dern and Forte

odenkirk keach payne
london film fest
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Nebraska Harking back to his own About Schmidt as well as David Lynch's The Straight Story, Payne gently explores Middle America with equal doses of spiky observational wit and soft-hearted sentiment. With bristlingly detailed performances, the film worms its way under our skin as it reveals some awkward truths about family connections.

In Montana, scruffy booze-hound Woody (Dern) believes he's won a million dollars, and decides to go to Nebraska to claim it. His son David (Forte) tries to explain that it's just a marketing scam, while his wife Kate (Squibb) berates him and older son Ross (Odenkirk) focusses on his new anchorman career. Eventually David gives in and takes Woody on a road trip, hoping to deepen their relationship in the process. But their journey takes a detour as they visit Woody's hometown and run into people and issues from his past.

Photographed by Phedon Papamichael in luxuriant black and white, with an emphasis on timelessly American towns and landscapes, the film moves at the rhythmic pace of Mark Orton's folk-infused score, pushing events along without histrionics. At the centre is David's struggle to relate to his father in some meaningful way, but the immediate and extended families are key to understanding the dynamic at work here, most notably how Woody's innate generosity has been blurred by relationships, experiences and expectations no one but he can properly understand.

Dern's performance is wonderful to watch, as he surprises us in every scene. And Forte is just as strong in the less showy role alongside him. Striking supporting turns include Squibb as a hilariously straight-talking harridan, Keach as an old friend with a personal agenda and McEwan as Woody's old flame. And for comic relief, Driscoll and Ratray are very funny as car-obsessed couch-potato nephews who are eerily reminiscent of Beavis and Butt-head.

Superficially, the film seems to be poking fun at rural small-mindedness and reality-blurring greed, but Payne seems to have a fondness for these things, almost eulogising life in a place where everyone knows your business and is perhaps a little too involved in each others' lives. Above that, this is a story about a young man learning the value of human dignity and of letting someone you love achieve their dreams without asking too many questions.

cert 15 themes, language, brief grisliness 8.Oct.13 lff

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© 2013 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall