At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Nebraska “2013”

MPAA Rating: R/ Genre: Comedy-Drama/ Stars: Bruce Dern, Will Forte, June Squibb, Bob Odenkirk, Stacy Keach, Mary Louise Wilson, Missy Doty, Angela McEwan, Rance Howard/ Runtime: 115 minutes

I feel it is safe to start this review off by stating a piece of long-held truth with you movie lovers. That truth would be that even though large amounts of money can potentially bring a few long-time acquaintances, quite a few new compatriots, and more than your fair share of long-lost nemeses from every which way, it can also bring to the forefront a lovely feeling of unity and reaffirm the bonds of family and other meaningful relationships, and ultimately lay bare a person’s good deeds, integrity, and purpose in life and those are things that no amount of money in the world could ever hope to buy. The reason I bring this up is because it is this meaningful statement which makes up the core of the film I am reviewing today; a little film from 2013 known as Nebraska. This is a movie which tells the emotional in more ways than one tale of an older man from Montana who erroneously comes to believe that he has won a million dollar prize from a Publishers Clearing House-esque outfit located in, you guessed it, Nebraska. Yet despite being ridiculed and looked down on for his power of belief, even by those he holds nearest and dearest, he continues to push ahead in his quest to show everyone up, acquire the money, and thus live out his dream. To that end, it should be noted that this film is a touching slice-of-life style narrative that is both uniquely riveting as well as satisfying from a pathos perspective on quite a few levels, one of the more significant being its supporting of concentration, persistence, strength in the face of adversity and of the family bond, honesty, and living with a purpose. Indeed this is a film that is delicately sacred in some ways, overly humanistic in others, but never forced or artificial in any way. Indeed it’s a wonderful and beautiful narrative in which simplicity on the outside and complexity on the inside manage to blend together wonderfully in order to tell us a ageless tale that is significantly more than its simple plot and seemingly basic outward appearance would have you thinking otherwise.

The plot is as follows: Nebraska opens its tale for us in the audience as we witness a slightly dotty older fellow by the name of Woody as he is in the midst of being approached by a cop car whilst walking on the roads of Billings, Montana and promptly taken in to the station where his son, a man by the name of David comes to pick him up. Upon inquiring as to where he was off to, we and David soon figure out that dear ol’ Dad is deadset on taking a trip to Lincoln, Nebraska in order to procure a million dollar prize that a mail ad has claimed he won. Suffice it to say that neither David nor his mom Kate are willing to take this mail ad with even a hint of seriousness. In fact if anything they just find themselves royally annoyed by Woody’s highly befuddled degree of determination. Be that as it may, David still finds himself willing to fake being sick for work purposes and drive his dear ol’ dad to Nebraska if only to put an end to this charade once and for all. Yet before they hit Lincoln, they decide to make a stop in Woody’s old stomping grounds of Hawthorne and, as to be expected, when the word that a newly christened millionaire is in their midst gets out, Woody becomes something of a local celebrity. However as Woody’s star begins rising, it isn’t long before we also witness his past, present, and future come to the forefront not courtesy of the magnifying glass of the all-holy dollar, but instead through the lovely in its own right time that he has spent with those he loves and holds dear: both friend and family alike….

Now Nebraska manages to conjure up such an immersive atmosphere, tell such a rich tale that also manages to conjure up so many different emotional responses that this truly is a movie that I feel is one which is better to just watch, especially more than one time, than to be talked about secondhand by a writer like myself. Indeed what I think is easy to tell you is that this film truly is masterful filmmaking in every way both in front of and behind the camera, in its narrative, and in the concepts at play in the narrative. Indeed for the exterior of the film, simplicity is the name of the game: both when it comes to narrative and style and designed and built around realistic performances, guerilla directorial work, and a restrained look for the movie by having it be in black and white instead of color. The best aspect though for this particular film is what is found underneath that color-less palette, and beyond the performances and the seemingly simple yet timeless narrative. It is the fact that this is a film that is genuinely both moving and candid right down to its heart and soul, a heart and soul that slowly comes into play as the film nears its conclusion. Suffice it to say then that I can think of seldom few movies that have achieved the success that this one has in its realistic yet riveting look at life which showcases both the best and worst in that species known as humanity, but also at those who would take an opportunity only to get something out of it for themselves, those who see dreams and belief in something as something to be shunned instead of embraced, those who refuse to comprehend anything which is outside their tolerance limit, and those who ultimately have their eyes opened to see the integrity, love, and optimism in a genuine interior that is aglow underneath perhaps even the most grizzled and befuddled exterior possible.

Thus if were to sum this entire movie going experience down to a singular word, I would have to say that this is a movie which deals first and foremost about faith. Indeed this is a movie which tells us a tale about a tiny desire has been molded over a lifetime and the belief that there is always the chance of something good coming into one’s life even if that thing seems way too good to be on the up and up. As we witness, Woody is pursuit of this million with a drive and a persistence that is actually respectable yet also not for the motives that you may be toiling over in your mind. In fact, I would even go so far as to ask just how much Woody truly comprehends both about what he is doing and just what is his chances for success truly are before ever even arriving in Nebraska. Indeed is it possible there is a genius plan, or at least a decent plan, broiling around in his head? Indeed where the vast majority of individuals see only a crazy mane of hair, a glaring gash in the forehead, and just a loony older individual, could he really have a purpose for this beyond getting easy money, or is Woody just a senile man whose expedition a complete creation of whatever is left of a truly warped imagination? Indeed even though the film drops clues in both directions, I feel that, due to the emotionally uplifting conclusion, that an individual watching might just hope it’s the former more than the latter. Be that as it may be though, the film definitely gives enough room for interpretation that this simply manages to contribute both high replayability and discussion to a quest for answers. Answers, I might add, that may only be found if the person asking them has a heart as strong and an imagination as wild as that of the main character.

Now even though the outside elements of the film are continually pushed to the side by the film’s deeper purpose and beautiful spirit, there is no denying that the outside elements are just as magnificent in their own right. Indeed this film from brilliant helmer Alexander Payne manages to showcase a terrifically genuine slice-of-life vibe in every single moment. A vibe that he manages to achieve utilizing a cast of three-dimensional yet quire relatable characters, a small town that is charming and just the right size for the tale, a simple photographic style, and by filming it in black and white he is also able to keep the audience’s attention on the narrative being told rather than anything else. Yet the wonderful work done by Payne finds itself strengthened by a remarkable group of performers who manage to find the heart and soul of both their characters and the story right from the get-go. This starts with iconic actor Bruce Dern in the lead role and it really isn’t any wonder why this performance was praised as highly as it was. Indeed this is a performance that requires the ability to make those watching the film to question, as stated earlier, how much of this character’s quest is lucid or grounded in some mix of foolishness and senility. To that end, I can say that Dern manages to walk along that very thin and narrow line magnificently in every minute of screen time and no matter what he is doing during that time be it interacting with others or with himself. Indeed this is one role which is way deeper than might initially be thought possible, but as for just how deep it ultimately goes is one question that you will have to figure out for yourself. Yet it is also worth pointing out that the rest of the cast manages to look up to Dern’s performance as a benchmark and they all do terrific work as well. Indeed, in the pivotal role of Woody’s resigned and beleaguered son David, Will Forte manages to do wonderful work as Dern’s foil in many respects and playing this role with just the right degree of tender mixed with aggravation that slowly, but surely is rooted out and replaced by the end of the film. Finally we also get wonderful support work from such thespians as Rance Howard, June Squibb, Bob Odenkirk, and Stacy Keach as key people in the lives of this mismatched father-son pairing and who manage with their respective amounts of screen time to add an incredible amount to an already vibrant and engaging film.

All in all Nebraska is a simple yet powerful tale about love and the simplest of desires even if neither of these are fully revealed until the end of the film. A conclusion that, I might add, is perfect in how it explores the ideas of genuine satisfaction as well as true unfiltered joy and just how these can be accepted and experienced in the most unexpected and profound ways. At the same time this is also a narrative about the idea of faith, not in money, but in people or to be more specific, family. Indeed be it a million dollars waiting for you or not is of little to no consequence. Rather it’s the ideas of family, love, and understanding that are what ensure that the journey to what is at the end of it worth it every step of the way. Indeed Nebraska is an absolutely terrific film and one that most significantly deserved of the Oscar nods it deserved. On a scale of 1-5 I give Nebraska “2013” a solid 4 out of 5.