Tagged: Alexander Payne
Review – Nebraska (2013)
Director: Alexander Payne
Starring: Bruce Dern, Will Forte, June Squibb, Bob Odenkirk
The road movie has always been a form that resonates with America, perhaps because it is such a large country, and one of its most interesting voices of late has been independent filmmaker Alexander Payne. Starting with a widower journeying to his daughter’s wedding in About Schmidt, and then a pair of middle aged men on a tour of the Californian wine country in Sideways, Payne likes to venture out on the road with unabashedly ordinary characters. He is at it again with a father and son in Nebraska.
After receiving an unsolicited piece of junk mail, ageing alcoholic Woody Grant is convinced that he has won one million dollars in a sweepstakes and needs to get to Lincoln, Nebraska – over 800 miles from his home in Billings, Montana – to collect his winnings. While his wife, Kate, and adult sons, David and Ross, are all too aware that this is a scam, there is no convincing Woody, and eventually David decides that the only way to put an end to it is if he takes Woody to Lincoln himself. On their way they stop off in Woody’s hometown of Hawthorne where the news that he has struck it rich spreads like wildfire, bringing all manner of friend and relative out of the woodwork to stake their claim for their piece of Woody’s expected winnings.
With its Middle American locations shot in beautiful widescreen black-and-white by Phedon Papamichael, Nebraska moves at a slow, almost melancholy pace. Road movies don’t need to be defined by momentum, and this one feels no compulsion to be. We know from the very beginning that the thing they are journeying towards, Woody’s million dollars, will not be there in the end, so the film is free to meander. Instead, as the old cliché goes, the journey becomes more important than the destination. At its heart, Nebraska is the story of a father and his son, or rather of a son and his father. For despite it being Woody’s image that appears on the poster, this is David’s story. It is David through whose subjectivity we encounter this tale. Woody is not a talkative or relational man, and it becomes apparent that for the entirety of his sons lives he never has been. Woody has always been removed from his sons. For Ross, this is the cause of much anger and resentment, but for David it is just the source of disappointment. This journey provides David with the opportunity to spend some time with his father, and through the stories he hears from the people of Hawthorne he comes to gain some understanding of this man who for his whole life has been a mystery.
The veteran character actor Bruce Dern has stumbled upon the role of his career at the age of 77. Woody is headstrong but vague. Is that vagueness a result of his years of alcohol abuse, or is he retreating into his own mind and memories? He is a character who, aware that he is in his twilight years, is determined leave his mark on the world. There is a lack of contentment in him and it is in this regard that Dern really brings something to the character that a more celebrated name couldn’t have. While it is Dern who is deservedly getting all the plaudits, Will Forte is also brilliant. The casting of Forte as David, the more subtle of the two leads, was a brave move that paid off. As a Saturday Night Live alumnus, Forte is best known as a comedic performer and a particularly unsubtle one at that, but he brings a real humanity to David and the perfect amount of uncomfortableness to his interactions. Outside of the two leads, it is June Squibb, as Woody’s fed-up, eye-rolling wife Kate who makes the biggest impact. Payne had previously used Squibb as the wife of Jack Nicholson’s character in About Schmidt, but in that film she died early on. Here she makes it through to the end and the film benefits greatly from her presence. It is Squibb, rather than the more obvious Forte or Odenkirk, who provides the films comic relief. In particular, the matter-of-fact accounts she shares with David about all the men from the old town who had tried to get into her pants are very funny.
A film reminiscent of small town films like The Last Picture Show, Nebraska blends humour and humanity with the result being a heartfelt, poignant and even uplifting film.
Rating – ★★★★
Review by Duncan McLean
Six of the Best… Jack Nicholson
A three time Oscar winner, with a further nine nominations, Jack Nicholson is one of the American cinema’s most celebrated actors and a movie legend. Starting his career in the B cinema of Roger Corman, rising to prominence in the Hollywood Renaissance of the 1960s and 1970s as one of the era’s most interesting new faces, and establishing himself as the very epitome of the Hollywood movie star, Nicholson is a big personality and a bigger talent. Trying to whittle this legendary career down to six roles requires some tough decision making, and as a result some brilliant roles which easily could have made the list miss out – chief among them Robert Dupea in Five Easy Pieces, Jack Torrence in The Shining and Frank Costello in The Departed – but here it goes…
Easy Rider (1969)
With 17 films already under his belt, it was his supporting role in Hopper and Fonda’s iconic road movie Easy Rider that made turned Nicholson into a star. As the alcoholic country lawyer George Hanson, Nicholson was the conduit through which the audience were able to relate to the skittish Billy and aloof Captain America. The performance earned him the first Academy Award nomination of his career and set him up to become one of the New Hollywood’s most important actors.
So proud was Nicholson of his work on the Polanski directed, Towne scripted Chinatown that he has not played another detective since. While drawing on the hard-boiled fiction of Chandler and Hammett, Nicholson’s Jake Gittes is a softer hero than those played by Humphrey Bogart. He is out of his depth, too innocent to deal with the magnitude of society’s corruption and incapable of solving the mystery until it is too late.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
If Easy Rider was the film that made Nicholson a star, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest was the film that made him an icon. Nicholson brings Ken Kesey’s anti-hero to life, drawing on his own counter-cultural anti-authority persona to make McMurphy a life-affirming force in a lifeless institution, and a worthy nemesis for Louise Fletcher’s chilling Nurse Ratched.
The deserved praise heaped on Heath Ledger for his performance as The Joker in The Dark Knight has seemingly resulted in many people forgetting just how good Nicholson was in the same role in Tim Burton’s Batman. Nicholson provides a different interpretation of the famous villain. Where Ledger’s Joker is a psychopath, Nicholson’s is a lunatic. Undoubtedly one of the great scene stealing performances in film history.
As Good as it Gets (1997)
Nicholson has enjoyed a very fruitful partnership with writer/director James L. Brooks, the high point of which was his Oscar winning performance as obsessive compulsive, romance novelist Melvin Udall in As Good as it Gets. Sharp, funny and at times vicious, Jack gets to be Jack. A character and a film that will put a smile on your face, and one of the best romantic comedies of the decade.
About Schmidt (2002)
Dipping his toe into independent cinema for the first time in decades with Alexander Payne’s About Schmidt, Nicholson produces one of the most interesting and brave performances of his career. Putting aside the over-the-top, sharp-edged persona that had become the norm in recent years, Nicholson embraced his older age, playing a quiet, widower worn-down by life. A wonderful late career reminder of the incredible talent that was the foundation of his superstardom.
By Duncan McLean
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