Bruce almighty

Aubrey Malone hails a pitch perfect work

 Nebraska (12A)

I’d love to see Bruce Dern getting an Oscar for this Cannes Film Festival winner. It’s a ‘small’ film that probably won’t trouble the box office too much but that doesn’t stop it being a masterpiece.  

When I saw Parkland a few weeks ago I thought that was something but this tops it. A millimetre away from perfection, it captures the American dustbowl with a poignance – and humour – that harks back to the desolate poetry of Peter Bogdanovich’s The Last Picture Show.

Smalltown America

Its people are the ordinary folk of smalltown America that we don’t see half enough of on our screens, many of them ‘real’ people rather than actors. Its buildings and landscapes have an aridity that’s stunning. The sadness of the film is cathartic; its ending is so touching it may make you want to cry.

Essentially a tale of filial bonding, it starts off with Dern, a crusty old alcoholic who’s also a hopeless romantic, believing he’s won $1 million after receiving one of those scam Sweepstakes letters we all get from time to time. “Does he have Alzheimer’s?” a cynic asks his son, David (Will Forte). “No,” Forte replies, “he just believes stuff people tell him.”

The journey of father and son across the country to collect his ‘winnings’ throws up a panoply of characters as he stops en route in his hometown: his brain-dead nephews; a woman who could have been his wife; a greedy conman played brilliantly by Stacy Keach.

Keach and Dern were fairly ubiquitous in the seventies. It’s heartening to see them both still at the top of their game in their ‘golden years’.

Masterly evocation

You won’t see a better film than Nebraska this year. Shot in black and white – as it had to be to highlight its grim poetry – it presents us with a masterly evocation of the loneliness of old age as the increasingly quizzical Dern gazes into the middle distance wondering what will become of him, his odyssey across the parched terrain a metaphor for a simultaneous journey of the soul.

If the film has a fault it’s the fact that it features a star from that other great road movie about elderly people, About Schmidt. June Squibb played Jack Nicholson’s wife in that and she’s also Dern’s here. Her performance is top notch but the fact that it has echoes of the earlier role is the one lapse of originality in a hugely original movie. (Both films also have the same director, Alexander Payne).

It would also have been nice if they could have used Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska as the backing soundtrack but maybe this would have
been too expensive for an arthouse film like this, on a tight budget.


Everything is writ small in Payne’s mutedly enchanting valentine to the forgotten people of his country, its bittersweet vignettes encapsulating over a dozen lives in 115 minutes. A paean both to frustrated longing and the pangs of age, its leisurely pace unpicks the American Dream (and the attendant monetary greed it perforce gives rise to) almost without trying.

Occasional vulgarities in the script account for the 12A cert.

Excellent ****