By John Horn
7:57 PM EDT, May 23, 2013
Alexander Payne’s new movie, “Nebraska,” premiered at the Cannes Film Festival to largely favorable yet occasionally qualified reviews.
The film focuses on an aging resident of Montana (Bruce Dern) who's convinced he's won $1 million in a sweepstakes and is determined to travel to a prize headquarters in Omaha to collect. His son (Will Forte) agrees to drive him, taking a side trip to the small Nebraska town where his father was born.
Here’s what some top critics thought of the film:
A strong sense of a vanishing past holds sway over an illusory future in "Nebraska," Alexander Payne’s wryly poignant and potent comic drama about the bereft state of things in America’s oft-vaunted heartland. Echoing the director’s most recent film, "The Descendants," in its preoccupation with generational issues within families, how the smell of money contaminates the behavior of friends and relatives and the way Wasps hide and disclose secrets, this is nonetheless a more melancholy, less boisterous work.
Their story is laced with pathos, comedy and regret, recalling the classic indie cinema of Hal Ashby and Bob Rafelson. It is shot, with almost Amish austerity in monochrome, which gives a wintry, end-of-the-world drear to that homely roadside Americana that Payne loves to pick out with his camera. "Nebraska" may not be startlingly new, and sometimes we can see the epiphanies looming up over the distant horizon; the tone is, moreover, lighter and more lenient than in earlier pictures like "Sideways." But it is always funny and smart.
Payne’s film is a bittersweet elegy for the American extended family, shot in a crisp black-and-white that chimes neatly with the film’s concern for times long past…. This is a resounding return to form for Payne: there are moments that recall his earlier road movies "About Schmidt" and "Sideways," but it has a wistful, shuffling, grizzly-bearish rhythm all of its own.
Alexander Payne's movies walk a fine line between cruel satire and emotional truth, but in "Nebraska," it's particularly hard to discern which is which. The black-and-white road trip dramedy might be his least essential work, but it's also notably distinct from the rest of it. The first project that the filmmaker didn't write himself, "Nebraska" lacks the vulgar edge typically at the center of his scenarios. It's a sad, thoughtful depiction of midwestern eccentrics regretting the past and growing bored of the present, ideas that Payne regards with gentle humor and pathos but also something of a shrug.
Just as “The Last Picture Show” was a movie made in the 1970s about the end of ’50s-era innocence, “Nebraska” feels, despite its present-day setting, like a eulogy for a bygone America (and American cinema), from the casting of New Hollywood fixtures Dern and Stacy Keach to its many windswept vistas of a vital agro-industrial heartland outsourced into irrelevance.
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