A man with dementia (Bruce Dern) goes on a road trip from Montana to Nebraska with his son (Will Forte) in order to cash in on what he thinks is a million dollar prize. On the way to Lincoln they stop at their old home town for a couple of days to catch up with old acquaintances.
Payne builds the film around Dern’s character, a gruff but naive midwesterner and Dern proves to be a fantastic choice for the role. He blends his character’s traits with the effects of dementia in a way that avoids making the illness the central part of the film.
Sadly the script doesn’t seem to provide for the other characters so much. Forte’s character is bland, serving only to drive the car and ask questions. His mother, Dern’s wife in the film, is funny but serves no other purpose than to provide comedy value. The old friends they run into all seem to fit into their little boxes, rather than being real people.
The cinematography stands out as a strong point, Payne shoots in black & white to great effect. The contrast between the beautiful, melancholic frame and the dry sense of humour works nicely to give the film unique tone.
Nebraska succeeds in getting us thinking about memories, and how the past shapes who we are. It struck a personal chord with me; I’ve been having to rake up the past myself this last year, meeting people I’d never thought I’d see again. Payne understands the catharsis of such a process along with the sadness it brings, and captures it here.
Dern’s performance along with the gorgeous imagery put Nebraska above most films, but the lack of care with the supporting cast keeps it from being a true classic.