Director Alexander Payne is the kind of filmmaker who likes to stay in a relative comfort zone. From his critical darlings About Schmidt, Sideways, and The Descendants from 2002-2011, Payne enjoys exploring family relationships, cantankerous characters and often taking them on location journeys to help them discover more meaning to their life. Such is the case with his latest film Nebraska; nominated for six Academy Awards (Best Picture, Director, Actor, Supporting Actress, Cinematography and Original Screenplay) and released by Paramount Pictures on Blu-ray/DVD February 25, 2014 before the Oscar ceremony on March 2nd.
Nebraska stars Bruce Dern (Middle Age Crazy) as Woody Grant, an aging boozer suffering from a form of dementia who believes he's won a million dollars from a sweepstakes company and is determined to travel to Nebraska to claim his prize, much to the chagrin of his spit-fire wife (June Squibb) and two estranged sons; Ross (Breaking Bad's Bob Odenkirk) and David (SNL's Will Forte). Deciding it would be better to indulge the fantasy rather than crush it, David agrees to take his father across state lines to settle the issue and visit family relatives in the process.
Once underway, David learns a lot about his father's past he was unaware of for so many years and begins to see him m in a new light, ultimately bringing the two closer together in an unlikely circumstance. True loyalties are also tested when extended family and friends believe Woody's fantasy about the money and start putting on the pressure for handouts. This leads to some excellent scenes from a solid ensemble cast playing the Grant family. While it's easy to see why Bruce Dern gives a career-topping, Oscar-worthy performance, his co-stars almost steal the film right out from under him.
Comedic actor Will Forte shows an incredible new side to his acting capabilities by playing David relatively straight and average, while June Squibb's Kate Grant provides the most hilarious moments in the film by literally having no-filter in her words regarding how she feels about things. Bob Odenkirk does a nice job as older brother Ross and Stacy Keach (The Bourne Legacy) adds a charming but menacing layer as Woody's former friend Ed Pegram.
The film contains a good amount of honest humour among the drama, which gives Nebraska an excellent tone. That tone is further solidified by its cinematic approach. Instead of being in traditional colour, Nebraska is presented in classic black-and-white, which aesthetically is the right call by the creators given the material. It makes the movie unique, where in colour it may not have been noticed as much as it has been in recent months.
On Blu-ray HD the black-and-white image is very clean, crisp and excellently detailed in 1080p. The film contains a strong DTS-HD Master Audio track, but again makes a traditional change and operates as a 3.0 instead of 5.1 sound mode. This gives the sounds of the film predominately to the front of a home entertainment system, but for a viewer its perfect. Nebraska's audio strength is in two areas, dialogue and music. Having both come from the front gives a listener everything they need for a clear, full effect.
The edition doesn't come with a lot in the way of special features, but the one supplemental option digs into the movie in all the right areas to satisfy those curious. 'The Making of Nebraska' covers an incredible amount of territory in roughly 30 minutes. Among the highlights include the origins of the script by Bob Nelson, how the project reached both Bruce Dern and Alexander Payne nine years ago in 2004, the extraordinary casting, the cinematic choice to have it in black-and-white and the intricacies of shooting on locations spread over miles apart for a small budgeted film. It's an excellent special feature.
Nebraska is a surprisingly good film that has the elements needed to make it a long-lasting classic in cinema history. It gives great focus to family dynamics, especially those between fathers and sons in a story that is honest, quirky and by its end very heart-warming. It could be regarded as Alexander Payne's best film to date and definitely one to watch out for at the Oscars. Paramount offers a highly-respectable effort for the film's presentation on Blu-ray/DVD home video.