Movie Review: Nebraska

Movie Review: Nebraska

An intriguing black comedy bringing thought to 'family'.

By Mark HadleyWednesday 19 Feb 2014Movies

Nebraska is a story aimed at helping the present generation learn compassion for their parents’ feet of clay. But will it teach them how to take stronger steps for themselves?

Mark Hadley reviews 'Nebraska'.

The story is basically a black comedy made all the more grim by director Alexander Payne’s decision to shoot his film in black and white. Bruce Dern stars as Woody Grant, an aging cantankerous father who is found wandering in the street one morning by the police. He tells his son David (Will Forte) that he’s trying to get to Lincoln Nebraska to claim his million-dollar sweepstakes prize. David reads the letter clasped in Woody’s hand and realizes that it’s actually only an advertising scam to persuade him to subscribe to magazines. But over the coming days as Woody continues to disrupt David’s life by trying to head south in search of his winnings, his son makes a fateful decision:

“How much longer is he going to be around?” he asks his mother Kate. “What’s the harm in letting him have his little fantasy for just a couple more days?”

What ensues is a torturously funny road trip that actually serves as the device that leads David to look beyond his father’s shortcomings. The real action takes place when David decides to detour to his father’s hometown of Hawthorne to bring his dad back in contact with his roots. Woody’s shady past comes into full focus when his son begins to meet those ‘friends’ and family his father left behind. Mum Kate meets them en route and takes them for an irreverent tour of the local graveyard:

Kate: “There’s Woody’s little sister, Rose. She was only nineteen when she was killed in a car wreck near Wausa. What a whore!” 

David: “Mom! “

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Kate: “Nah, I liked Rose, but my God, she was a [expletive].”

David: “C’mon… “

Kate: “I’m just telling you the truth! “

David: “Where’s your family? “

Kate: “Oh, they’re over in the Catholic cemetery. Catholics wouldn’t be caught dead around all these damn Lutherans.”

Kate: “Here’s Delmer, Woody’s cousin, he was a drunk. One time we were wrestling and he felt me up. Grabbed a handful of boob and Woody was right there and didn’t have a clue, did ya Woody?”

David begins to judge his father not on the frustrating man he still is, but by the life he has left behind. Bruce Dern is earning all sorts of gongs for his grating performance but the picture that emerges by the end of the film is a father who can be loved in spite of his faults. 

There is a very real Christian parallel at the heart of Nebraska, though it’s unlikely that Payne would consider its origins. Jesus’ words, “Judge not lest you be judged,” have become such a touchstone with people today that they’re quoted in many places where God’s Son is openly disparaged. The Apostle Paul issues the same warning by reminding the Christians at Corinth of their own shady backgrounds – “And that is what some of you were!” Like Jesus, he reminds us that God is the only one good enough to judge. But thankfully God also offers the only way to be made clean:

“But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” 

Rating: M
Distributor: Roadshow
Release Date: February 20