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Nebraska (2013)

Paramount Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 2/25/2014

All Ratings out of




Review by Mike Long, Posted on 2/26/2014

The goal of most films is to entertain or, at the very least, to hold the audience's attention. Hopefully, the goal of a movie is to also elicit an emotional response. Horror movies should want to scare you and comedies should want to make you laugh. Of course, we've all seen movies which fail in this endeavor and leave the viewer cold. Thus, if a movie can somehow manage to hit two emotional points, that is a big deal. Nebraska manages to take a relatively simple premise and seemingly with little effort take us through the emotional wringer.

Nebraska opens with Woody Grant (Bruce Dern) walking along an interstate highway. He's retrieved by the police and taken home to his wife, Kate (June Squibb). She calls his two songs, David (Will Forte) and Ross (Bob Odenkirk), to talk to Woody. The old man has is convinced that he's received a letter informing him that he's won $1 million, despite the fact that David explains that it's simply a sales ploy to generate magazine subscriptions. Woody, who's age and lifetime of drinking have left him with Alzheimer's-like symptoms, refuses to believe this and insists that he must get to Lincoln, Nebraska in order to claim his prize, as he distrusts the postal service. After several more attempts to walk to Nebraska (Woody can no longer drive), David agrees to take his father there in order to put a stop to this. This simple trip turns into an emotional journey, as they stop in Woody's hometown and David gets to know more about his emotionally distant father.

Nebraska is a slice of life movie which uses a unique idea as a jumping off point for a movie that is more interested in portraying realistic characters and emotions than being quirky and clever. That's not to imply that the movie is boring and uninspired -- quite the contrary. Unlike many movies which think that they are portraying real life by introducing us to characters which come off as totally unrealistic, Nebraska so closely portrays reality that it feels like a documentary at times. And while it does wander into stereotypes with some of the character portrayals, it also goes into interesting directions. For example, Ross is a TV anchorman. He could have easily been a jerk who lords his high profile job over his less successful brother, but instead he's just a normal guy who is concerned about his father's well-being.

Director Alexander Payne helms Nebraska in much the same way that he did The Descendants (for which he shared an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay). As with that film, Nebraska contains some very depressing material and it can feel hopeless at times. However, the movie is infused with laughter. Payne and Writer Bob Nelson have found the inherent comedy in everyday situations. The movie is not a comedy, there are no big set ups for jokes, but there are many moments which are laugh-out-loud funny (especially the air-compressor scene). This is juxtaposed with moments of genuine emotion, as we watch Woody struggle with reality, as David comes to grips with the fact that he has very strong feelings about his father, yet he barely knows him.

The story is buoyed by very strong performances. Bruce Dern's portrayal of Woody is that kind of transparent work where we being to wonder where the actor ends and the character begins. There's not a single moment where we doubt Dern as Woody and he steals a scene with just a blank stare. While he's great (and certainly deserves his Oscar nod), the real revelation is 84-year old June Squibb as Kate. When we meet her, she merely seems like a put-upon wife who is tired of dealing with her husband. But, once the action moves to Hawthorne, Nebraska, we learn what a spark-plug Kate is. I can see how some could accuse Nebraska of aiming for the lowest-common denominator by having an old woman spout profanity, but it comes from a real place and the result is surprising and funny. Will Forte holds his own in a dramatic role, but his comedic background makes his reactions to Woody's bizarre nature perfect.

I can easily see how some would assume that Nebraska isn't for them. The movie is in stark black-and-white, the premise sounds depressing, and there are no sexy stars. I think you'll be surprised by how engaging the movie is and how you'll be pulled into this simple story. Is the movie sad at times? Undoubtedly, but, as mentioned above, it's also funny. Payne has created a film which isn't exactly an emotional roller-coaster, but it will leave you touched, as you'll be on the verge of tears one moment and chuckling the next. I wish that Payne had cut back on the landscape shots, but otherwise, Nebraska is a nearly pitch-perfect movie.

Nebraska has the most depressing hat in film history on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Paramount Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 36 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear, showing only a trace of grain and no defects from the source material. The black-and-white photography looks fantastic, offering great contrast between the light and dark shades. The depth looks great and the level of detail is impressive. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 3.0 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 2.0 Mbps. I've been reviewing home video for 14 years and I've never run across a 3.0 track. So, Nebraska can make that claim. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. We get some mild stereo effects, mostly from passing cars and sounds coming from off-screen. The dialogue is never overwhelmed and the score sounds fine.

The lone extra on the Nebraska Blu-ray Disc is "The Making of Nebraska" is a 29-minute featurette which delves into the movie. We get comments from Payne, Writer Bob Nelson, and the producers, as well as the cast. The piece explores the genesis of the project and how it took some time for the production to begin. From there, we get some on-set footage as Payne describes the casting and shooting on location.

Review Copyright 2014 by Mike Long