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My Father's House

Nebraska (2013)

Paramount Pictures

Despite the monochromatic cinematography and the absence of Jim Taylor, “Nebraska” is recognizably an Alexander Payne picture. Aside from the obvious — the titular state where Mr. Payne hailed from and also where “Citizen Ruth,” “Election” and “About Schmidt” were set — the new film is a road movie like “About Schmidt” and “Sideways.” Supposing this being nothing new to be a valid criticism, it’s still the only criticism one can conceivably lodge against this masterpiece without seeming nitpicky.

Bruce Dern stars as Woody Grant, who is convinced that he has won a Publishers Clearing House-esque sweepstakes and embarks on foot from Billings, Mont., to Lincoln, Neb., “The Straight Story” style, to collect his winnings. Concerned for his safety, his son David (Will Forte) begrudgingly takes a few days off work to indulge him and drive him to Lincoln. Along the way, they make a stop in Woody’s hometown of Hawthorne, Neb., to visit his brothers, extended family, old business partner (Stacy Keach), old flame (Angela McEwan), old haunts, childhood home and the cemetery. As Woody brags about his looming fortune, the news brings greed and alleged unfinished business out of the woodwork.

Although Woody seems senile, there’s a method to his madness after all. His futile pursuit is apparently motivated by a desire to leave a legacy in his old age. After an unremarkable life of mediocrity, Woody wants everyone to know he’s somebody at last. But Mr. Payne and screenwriter Bob Nelson didn’t make him at all pitiful or pathetic: Although Woody’s collecting the prize money is as implausible as anyone could imagine, he settles scores in a final moment of triumph. It may seem totally trivial to some viewers, but for Woody it’s his life’s redemption.

Mr. Payne has already achieved a batting average rivaling Pixar’s, but here he has finally established himself as a visionary. Phedon Papamichael’s lens work perfectly illustrates the languid mood, elevating Mr. Payne’s intimate humanist drama to an auteurist high. The all-around marvelous performances from the cast and supporting nonprofessional actors add unmistakable authenticity to this slice of Americana, delivering not just memorable portraits but enough nuances for you to flesh out all their backstories.


Opens on Nov. 15 in the United States and on Dec. 6 in Britain.

Directed by Alexander Payne; written by Bob Nelson; director of photography, Phedon Papamichael; edited by Kevin Tent; production design by Dennis Washington; produced by Albert Berger and Ron Yerxa; released by Paramount Vantage. Running time: 1 hour 55 minutes. This film is rated R by M.P.A.A. and 15 by B.B.F.C.

WITH: Bruce Dern (Woody Grant), Will Forte (David Grant), June Squibb (Kate Grant), Bob Odenkirk (Ross Grant) and Stacy Keach (Ed Pegram).


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