Bruce Dern, Will Forte, June Squibb, Bob Odenkirk, Stacy Keach
An aging, booze-addled father makes the trip from Montana to Nebraska with his estranged son in order to claim a million-dollar Mega Sweepstakes Marketing prize.
$730.965 thousand on 102 screens.
Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
English DTS-HD MA 3.0
English Descriptive Video 2.0
Spanish Dolby Digital 3.0
French Dolby Digital 3.0
German Dolby Digital 3.0
Runtime: 115 min.
Release Date: 2/25/2014
• “The Making of Nebraska” Documentary
• DVD Copy
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Nebraska [Blu-Ray] (2013)
Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (February 24, 2014)
Alexander Payne doesn’t direct many movies, but when he does, he earns critical plaudits. 2004’s Sideways became his first Best Picture-nominated feature and he followed that with another BP nod for 2011’s The Descendants.
Payne made it three in a row with 2013’s Nebraska. Elderly Montana resident Woody Grant (Bruce Dern) receives a junk letter that leads him to believe he’s won a million dollars from a magazine clearinghouse. Unable to drive, his wife Kate (June Squibb) won’t chauffeur him to the company’s headquarters in Nebraska, so he decides to walk there.
The cops pick up Woody and son David (Will Forte) retrieves him from the police station. Woody refuses to abandon his anticipated financial windfall so he continues his attempts to walk to Nebraska. Frustrated with his increasing lack of mental stability, Kate and David’s brother Ross (Bob Odenkirk) want to place him in a home, but David resists.
When it becomes clear Woody won’t quit his quixotic quest, David agrees to drive his dad the 900 miles to Nebraska. This leads them on a journey that takes them back to Woody’s hometown along the way and brings out long-festering drama.
No one ever accused Payne of delivering plot-heavy movies, and Nebraska pushes that emphasis more than his earlier efforts. At least Sideways gave us midlife crises and Descendants came with family tragedy so they had strong themes at play.
By contrast, Nebraska seems much looser and more ambling. Sure, we see issues of coping with aging and connecting with parents, but those stay fairly far in the background. It’s enjoyable to see David get closer to Woody and the movie paints these developments well, but it doesn’t deliver the kind of larger picture seen with Payne’s prior two films.
I think that’s good and bad. On one hand, I like the way that Nebraska shoots small. It wants to give us a wee slice of life and it doesn’t need to be anything more than that. Our existences and relationships aren’t defined solely by large changes, so it’s enjoyable to watch something that acknowledges the smaller developments.
On the other hand, this means Nebraska comes with a weaker emotional payoff than its predecessors. At first I wondered if this might’ve been because I had a more tenuous personal connection to the tale. After all, I’m the same age as Paul Giamatti, so I could relate to his character’s attitudes in Sideways, and as one who lost my mother as a kid, I could definitely connect to major aspects of Descendants. Perhaps Nebraska moves me less because I don’t have the same link.
Or maybe it just doesn’t have the same emotional pull regardless of personal circumstances. Indeed, there’s no logical reason I shouldn’t have related to Nebraska. I’m not much older than the David character, and I also have an elderly father – one from the Midwest, in fact. No, my dad’s not a drunk like Woody, and he doesn’t have the same mental lapses, but I should still connect to a tale about a 40-something guy and his 70-something dad.
Which I do to a degree, but not as much as I would like, which leads me back to my original thesis: Nebraska lacks the same emotional punch of Payne’s two prior films. It also feels a bit like “Coen Brothers Lite” at times, as I occasionally get the impression Payne wants to go down that path. The film comes with more gratuitously wacky characters than usual, and these don’t always work.
In the end, this leaves Nebraska as a good film but not a great one, which makes it a mild disappointment after Payne’s earlier work. To be sure, it entertains and probably keeps us with it more than it should given the slow pace and general lack of plot, but I don’t think it matches up with the excellence of Descendants and Sideways.
The Blu-ray Grades: Picture B+/ Audio C+/ Bonus C
Nebraska appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.40:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. Across the board, the Blu-ray represented he film well.
Sharpness looked solid. A few slightly soft wide shots occurred, but the majority of the movie looked accurate and concise. No issues with shimmering or jagged edges appeared, and the image lacks edge haloes. Print flaws also failed to materialize.
Blacks looked dark and dense, and the movie’s black and white presence demonstrated a nice sense of contrast and a silver sheen. Shadows showed good detail and clarity in the low-light scenes. I felt quite pleased with this consistently appealing presentation.
As for the DTS-HD MA 3.0 soundtrack of Nebraska, it proved to be perfectly adequate for the film’s goals. Dialogue seemed natural and distinct, with no problems related to intelligibility or edginess. Effects were a minor consideration in such a "chatty" movie, but they appeared acceptably clear and realistic. Music was also low-key; the track represented the score with good clarity.
In terms of soundfield, the material spread gently across the front three channels. Given the film’s heavy focus on characters, we didn’t get much information across the speakers; bars and roads opened up the track in a subdued manner but didn’t add much. This was a competent track and that was about it.
The Blu-ray comes with one extra: a documentary called The Making of Nebraska. This goes for 28 minutes, 50 seconds and includes comments from executive producer Julie M. Thompson, writer Bob Nelson, producers Albert Berger and Ron Yerxa, director Alexander Payne, executive producer/assistant director George Parra, casting director John Jackson, director of photography Phedon Papamichael, editor Kevin Tent, locations manager John Latenser V, assistant locations manager Jamie Vesay, production designer J. Dennis Washington, costume designer Wendy Chuck, and actors Will Forte, Bruce Dern, June Squibb, Stacy Keach, and Bob Odenkirk.
The program covers the movie’s script and path to the screen, story/character areas, cast and performances, Payne’s impact on the production, cinematography and editing, locations and costumes, and other aspects of the shoot. I’d like more ample bonus materials than just this one piece, but at least “Making of” gives us a pretty good look at the movie. We get a nice array of subjects and find a mix of useful details. Nothing stellar materializes here, but the show adds to our appreciation of Nebraska.
A second disc provides a DVD copy of Nebraska. It comes with some previews but lacks the Blu-ray’s documentary.
A generally good character piece, Nebraska only falters when compared to its director’s prior superior films. On its own, the movie works pretty well, though it lacks the impact I think it needs to elevate to a higher level. The Blu-ray comes with very good picture, decent audio and one informative bonus feature. Ultimately we find a quality release for an engaging movie.
Viewer Film Ratings: 4.1666 Stars
| Number of Votes: 6