nebraska-mar-19thBruce Dern plays Woody Grant, white-haired father to David and Ross. He is mentally frail and an erstwhile alcoholic. He is convinced that the flier declaring that he has won $1million – his if he comes to collect it from Lincoln, Nebraska – is not a hoax. So begins this road movie which sees Woody and reluctant son David make the long journey to Nebraska. In the hands of Payne, we reconstruct the life of his flawed protagonist. He follows the sometimes bleak landscape and revisits lost family and a former business colleague, thus the full picture emerges of his younger life. “It’s a scenario rich with both absurdly comic and ruminatively elegiac elements, but the black and white camerawork foregrounds the sadness, making everything look more serious and older” –
Trevor Johnson, Sight and Sound. (Cert 15)
Dir: Alexander Payne 115 mins USA 2013

Programme Notes

USA 2013 115m Cert 15

Director Alexander Payne seems to specialise in films dealing with middle-aged or elderly men trying to come to terms with their own problems and those of their immediate families. Every time he does so, he invariably comes up with a winner. His three best known films, About Schmidt (2002), Sideways (2004) and The Descendants (2011), have all picked up wins at various film festivals, usually for Best Writing or Best Screenplay, although it was Sideways which gained the greatest acclaim, the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay in 2004.

In About Schmidt, we saw Jack Nicholson as a retired man (also from Nebraska) on a road trip to his daughter’s wedding and not particularly keen on her intended husband. In Sideways, we met two forty year old wine aficionados on a road trip to the Santa Barbara wine-producing region and in The Descendants, we saw George Clooney as a lawyer with a mixed-up family life sorting out hereditary land rights in Hawaii. (ABCD has screened the last two in recent years.)

With Nebraska, Payne returns to his home state in the mid-West to show us another dysfunctional character, the disillusioned and alcoholic Woody, whose estranged son David seeks to keep the family peace by agreeing to take him from Montana to the headquarters of a National Geographic-type magazine in Nebraska, to prove to him that he has not won a million dollars in their sweepstake.

Bob Nelson’s script, together with Payne’s deft direction, makes the film worthy of all its award nominations and being shot in black and white, it comes across as a good, old-fashioned road movie. (In the scene in the cemetery, look out for the gravestone bearing the name Payne.)

Woody Grant – Bruce Dern
David Grant – Will Forte
Kate Grant – June Squibb
Ross Grant – Bob Odenkirk
Ed Pegram – Stacey Keach

Director – Alexander Payne
Producer – Albert Berger
Screenplay – Bob Nelson
Cinematography – Phedon Papamichael
Music – Mark Orton


“This is it – the best film of the season. Bloody fantastic! All life was there – loved it!”

“Probably the best film of the season”

“Splendidly absurd – consistent, wonderful storytelling from Alexander Payne”

“A haunting and evocative film. Black and white was the right medium.”

“Thought provoking and very well cast. I have really enjoyed it!”

“Brilliant exploration of routine life to show deep relationships”

“Had its heart in the right place, with enough warmth and empathy to care about what all the characters were doing. It was also good to see black and white cinematography used to give scale and depth, rather than to sugar-coat a clichéd road movie, e.g. Ida.”

“The mix of pathos and often pretty basic humour was successful.”

“Began unexcitingly, with a lot of couch potatoes but the plot grew on me with time; much pathos and a loving son. The ending was improbable, though.”

“Good clear dialogue (apart from the photographer’s boy) but why were the shadows so long in the graveyard when it was supposed to be lunchtime?”

“Nice but too long – Woodie’s wife was great, though.”

“A great idea but spoilt for me because I didn’t find the old man likeable enough.”

“Oh for those wonderfully empty roads!”



A:14, B:17, C:3, D:4, E:0 to give 77%