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Published:January 10th, 2014 08:29 EST
Bruce Dern`s Woody Grant in Alexander Payne`s 'Nebraska' Discovers A 'Million Dollar Bash!'

Bruce Dern`s Woody Grant in Alexander Payne`s 'Nebraska' Discovers A 'Million Dollar Bash!'

By John G. Kays

I`m gripped with a fallacious fallacy, my review of Nebraska (directed by Alexander Payne) is going to stimulate its box office drawer; in this sense, I`m just like Woody Grant (that`s a disheveled, dementia-laden Bruce Dern), who believes he`s hit the jackpot on a yet another bogus Publishers` Clearing House scam of a mail-out.

Not a bad fantasy though (and pretext for a loose plot), Woody gets to wander the desolation of American freeways all day, seeking his elusive fortune, while I get to stumble around the gnarly streets of Austin, stuffed with beau coup pugnacious pudding, I`m a famous film critic (who can turn the fortune of a film on a dime, with a twist of my quill)!

I wasn`t expecting all that much when I caught a matinee at the Arbor (North Austin) last Sunday, but I`d seen the previews previously and Bruce Dern has always been one of my favorite actors (I`d like to concentrate solely sometime on his TV cameos from the 1960s). It turns out, Nebraska is quite a bit better of a film than I thought it would be; I`m still sorting out the reasons for that audacious assertion, but some of it is beginning to take shape as picture postcard in my mind. 

Three reasons I can give right away with no hesitation, are: it`s shot appropriately in black and white (the cinematographer is Phedon Papamichael), next, it takes place in the Midwest, which aint made it to present times yet, and the third, is the way Bruce Dern brought Woody Grant to life (for me, he`s a real person).

Let me add to that, in praising profusely the soundtrack (composer is Mark Orton from Tin Hat), which is tweaked just right with a pinch of melancholy and saccharine, and nicely complements the stark black and white shots of Nebraskan freeways, or quaint little towns, such as Hawthorne, where most of the story takes place. 

It`s where Woody grew up and where some of the skeletons in his closet reside, the blemishing residue of his haunted past, such as his old car repair business partner, Ed Pegram (played coolly by Stacy Keach), or we have a not so busy newspaper reporter (and editor), Peg Nagy (played by Angela McEwan), who is a quick study as far as the million dollar charade goes.

The scene where they go and visit the home where Woody grew up in is particularly good for showcasing the perfect widescreen black and white cinematography, what with that abandoned spook house (built by Woody`s father) which looks something like Norman Bates` mother`s abode in Hitchcock`s Psycho

By this point, we`re reaching the zenith of Woody`s fragmented past, a hard life growing up in a small Midwest town (Hawthorne), serving in Korea, getting married to a battle axe of a Butchy woman, Kate (played marvelously by June Squibb), after having played the field with a smidgeon of gusto and abandon.

Alcoholism, lingering around bars, and wasting lots of life`s precious time, with his head stuck in a bottle, is another recurring theme, raising its raunchy head, in Nebraska. There`s not a whole lot to do in Hawthorne, and Woody`s been retired for a considerable number of years, so tipping a cold long neck is his favorite form of entertainment. 

Naturally, he denies he has a drinking problem and even gets his son (David Grant played by Will Forte) to start hitting the sauce with him. I see this side issue of alcoholism working hand and hand with the central theme, which is that the Midwest is null and void of Modernity, a blast from the past, where an oddball of an old codger rightly can get easily disorientated.