Nebraska – 2013
This was an intimate little movie on a small scale. It had no really big names, a subtle story, and a mild pace, and yet, it was enough to keep my interest. I’ll say right off the bat that it wasn’t worthy of a Best Picture nomination. It just wasn’t deep enough or engaging enough. It was cute, but not much more.
It starred Bruce Dern as Woody Grant, an elderly man who believes he has won a million dollars through one of those sweepstakes prize scams. He carries with him the letter from a magazine subscription company which tells him of his good fortune. The film starts out as Woody is walking along the interstate highway and is picked up by the police. When his son, David, played by Will Forte, comes to collect him at the jail, we learn that Woody had been trying to walk to Lincoln, Nebraska to collect his winnings. David, of course, knows that his father has won nothing, but Woody refuses to listen to him.
Woody is a sad old man who might be in the beginning stages of old age dementia. His wife Kate, played by June Squibb, treats him with anger and frustration. His eldest son Ross, played by Bob Odenkirk, believes he should be put into a home. After Woody makes several more failed attempts to go to Nebraska, an exasperated David agrees to take him to collect his prize money, if only to convince his father that the whole deal is a scam.
Of course, it turns into a road trip film, and in that respect, the overall plot was common and predictable. Along the way, David and his father become closer and have a bit of a reconciliation. We also learn of Woody’s past, seeing how he was once a good and well-liked man, instead of the grouchy old codger he has become, and we sympathize with him. There were no real twists or surprises, and the drama never really ran very deep.
For a while, the story got mildly interesting when Dave and Woody make a detour to visit relatives they haven’t seen in many years. Kate and Ross take a bus to join them for the family reunion. When his relations learn that Woody has struck it rich, it doesn’t take them long to descend like vultures, claiming that Woody owed them money. Dave tries to convince them that Woody hasn’t really won anything, but they accuse him of lying. In a very satisfying scene, Kate steps in and tells them that even if Woody had won any money, they wouldn’t be receiving a penny, and in fact, it was really they who owed Woody money.
One of the things that I liked about the film was its portrayal of the American mid-west. I was born and raised in the mid-west, and to me, the spirit of the region was accurately captured. The movie was all filmed in black and white, which was somehow appropriate. The movie obviously took place in the winter-time since all the trees were bare, a look which I have always loved. It really reminds me of home. The people were the kind of people I knew. The houses were like the ones in which I once lived. The film gave me a strong feeling of nostalgia. I’ve actually known people like Dave’s two moronic cousins, Bart and Cole, played by Tim Driscoll and Devin Ratray.
The acting was competent, though nothing to really write home about. I thought Will Forte was the movie’s real standout, his frustration with his dismissive and grumpy father giving him a little drama to work with, though even his character didn’t require too much depth of emotion. I also though June Squibb did a pretty good job as the long-suffering wife. And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the only other recognizable name in the cast, Stacy Keach, playing the part of Ed Pegram, Woody’s former business partner who also claims that he is owed money. If the movie could be said to have a villain, it would have been him, and he played the part just fine.
In the end, Woody and Dave make it to the marketing agency where the receptionist tells Woody that because the code number on his letter was not the grand prize winning number, he hasn’t won anything. Instead, she gives him a baseball style hat that said Prize Winner. Disappointed and disillusioned, Woody walks away in defeat. All he ever really wanted to do with the prize money was to buy a new truck, a new air compressor to replace one that had been stolen from him, and leave his children some money when he died. But apparently he wouldn’t even be able to do that.
The ending was a little sad, but only a little. In an attempt to give the plot a feel-good ending, Dave sells his car and buys a truck, and allows Woody to drive it. Then he buys a brand new air compressor and gives it to his father. It isn’t much, but it is enough, and a bond that has long been absent between the two men is formed. It was sweet, but not terribly deep or moving. The movie had some cute moments, but I’m not really sure why it was nominated for Best Picture. It didn’t come close to measuring up to its competitors like American Hustle, 12 Years a Slave, or The Wolf of Wall Street.