Nebraska Review – Rara Avis

(for Boops)

I consider Nebraska the best value I’ve gotten from a movie in a long, long time.

For a mere $1.22 (DVD rental at the RedBox kiosk), I derived indescribable joy from this remarkable 2013 film.

Featuring all-round acting of the highest caliber and a story so offbeat it beggars description, Nebraska is truly a tour de force.

In an age when directors resort to every gimmick in the book and beyond, and are quick to kneel at the altar of star power, Nebraska’s director Alexander Payne has made a beautiful masterpiece eschewing the trappings of a George Clooney, Brad Pitt or Will Smith or gee whiz special effects that I find so tiresome.

Hell, Nebraska ain’t even a color film.

America – Huckster Nation

As anyone with a functioning brain in America knows, this is a land of hucksterism.

Far too frequently, all of us receive letters in the mail, phone calls and pitches from friends and family of how it’s our inescapable destiny to become millionaires, win a free cruise to the Bahamas or lose weight while gorging on chocolate or Dum Biryani. Private universities tell us a law degree is the road to El Dorado (reality – many unemployed lawyers are working as waiters and waitresses), banks insists on lending us money at 0% interest and junk e-mail boldly promise $70 an hour for stuffing envelopes.

You might think Americans are too smart to be taken in by all these swindles.

Alas, No.

Believe me, people are the same everywhere. When it comes to the lure of easy money or freebies, people unfailingly fall victim to scamsters. (I once had a Cornell graduate ask me seriously about responding to an e-mail she received about someone bequeathing her a big sum of money.)

Or maybe it’s desperation that leads people to these fancy schemes and straight into the arms of shysters and predators.

Old Man & A Scam

And so the great American scam forms the underpinnings of Nebraska (written by Bob Nelson).

Our old man Woody Grant (Bruce Dern) truly believes he has won a $1 million prize upon receiving a letter from a magazine subscriptions seller that deploys dubious tactics to hawk magazines.

Woody’s vexed wife and two grownup sons quickly realize the letter is bosh but the naive old man is undeterred.

Repeatedly and to the enormous irritation of his wife Kate (June Squibb), the old man leaves home by walk for the 750-mile trek from his home in Billings (Montana) to Lincoln (Nebraska). Each time, Woody is brought home from the highway by a kindly police officer.

Finally, and to the consternation of his mother, Woody’s younger son David (Will Forte) offers to take his father to Lincoln by car so that the old man can encash his $1 million winning check.

And so begins an extraordinary tale of family, relationships, fraud, gullibility, greed, comedy and compassion.

Woody’s is an all too common American story of foibles, frailties and naivete, but beautifully captured by Alexander Payne from a remarkable screenplay by Bob Nelson.

In a movie full of sublime moments, it’s hard to pick a favorite.

For me, Kate Grant (June Squibb) at the Hawthorne cemetery was hilarious beyond words, way better than the compressor theft scene or the brothers guffawing about David driving in reverse to reach Hawthorne. 😉

Bruce Dern’s performance as Woody Grant is nothing short of magic.

Not for one moment do you feel the 78-year-old actor is just shuffling about in a movie.

So realistic, so remarkable is Dern’s performance that the 2013 Cannes Film Festival awarded him the Best Actor award. Other honors heaped on Bruce Dern include nominations for Best Actor at the Golden Globe and Academy Award functions.

June Squibb, Will Forte and the rest of the cast (literally everyone at Hawthorne with a frame in the movie) are awesome too.

Photography is stark, the bleak landscape showcasing the hopelessness in America’s hinterland.

The soundtrack is the sweet icing on this delicious pie.

Nebraska is a masterpiece guaranteed to deliver cinematic Nirvana to desis who can think beyond the garbage of Indian cinema.

One Response to "Nebraska Review – Rara Avis"

  1. boopalanj   March 26, 2014 at 1:42 am

    Thanks for the review.

    Glad that you liked the movie. Quite a satisfying experience after a long time.

    Like you said, the cemetery scene was my favorite too. Compressor theft was hilarious but kinda familiar and usual. Responds:

    Nebraska is one of those rare movies for all time.

    I’m sure discerning moviegoers will find it appealing even 100 years from now.

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