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Nebraska

Year: 2013
Studio: Paramount Vantage
Director: Alexander Payne
Writer: Bob Nelson
Cast: Bruce Dern, Will Forte, June Squibb, Stacy Keach, Bob Odenkirk

I think if I'd watched this movie completely cold without having been through all the awards hype and critical love I would have had a pleasant enough time watching it but I doubt I would have been thinking about Oscars and it being the best performance of Bruce Dern's career.

It does a good job of extracting some heart out of a very plain tale (and not just because of the use of black and white), the kind of small family saga undoubtedly played out a million times over every day about families and ageing.

Dern is Woody, a cantankerous grump and barely closeted drunk who becomes convinced he's won a million dollars in a marketing sweepstakes scam across the country. Although it's never an overt part of the story, it also seems he's starting to suffer from dementia, wandering off more than once determined to walk all the way from his home in Montana to the marketing company's offices in Nebraska to claim his money.

His no-nonsense wife (June Squibb in an adorable role) is at the end of her tether, and in desperation, their son David (Will Forte) agrees to take a few days off work and drive Woody all the way there to prove to him he hasn't won anything.

In true Hollywood style it's the catalyst for a reconnecting between the father and the son, but it's handled in anything like a Hollywood manner.

There are strong themes (again, not overpoweringly referenced) about the difficulty men have in talking about their feelings – one of the few laugh out loud scenes is a family gathering of Woody's brothers, a coterie of old men sitting around watching football and talking about cars, devoid of any passion.

And for a story with few outbursts of emotion and barely even a voice raised beyond frustration, it manages to keep you interested. There are some laughs you feel you know from your own family relationships and a couple of moments of high slapstick, like where David and his brother Ross (Bob Odenkirk) steal a compressor from the wrong house.

It's certainly watchable, but I can't help feeling a lot of the love for was Dern and Payne's careers as much as this film itself.

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