Alexander Payne has for the past decade or so made his name directing thoughtful, offbeat, interesting films like About Schmidt, Sideways and The Descendants.
These films have helped show the talents of established actors like Jack Nicholson, Paul Giamatti and George Clooney in a fresh light.
Nebraska, shot in glorious black and white, is another risk-taking gem adding to that impressive body of work.
A father and son road movie, it is shot against the bleak, stark backdrops of Nebraska, the director’s home state. We see small town American portrayed in a blunt, truthful manner not generally favoured by the Hollywood machine.
The director’s knowledge of his own back yard, and its people, shines through from the first reel to the last. The script by Bob Nelson is a slow-burning delight, with one-liners coming out of nowhere, leaving you wondering: “Did she really just say that?”
An aging, booze-addled old man, Woody Grant (Bruce Dern) believes he has won a million dollars after receiving a marketing letter dismissed by everyone else as a clear scam.
Determined to make the trip from his home in Montana to Nebraska to collect his winnings, he sets out walking on more than one occasion, only to wind up back home with his despairing, sharp-tongued and apparently long-suffering wife, Kate (84-year-old June Squibb a revelation in the part).
His semi-estranged son David (Will Forte) agrees to go along with him, sensing this is something his dad needs to do – and the opportunity for some time alone with the cantankerous old man, who still remains something of an enigma to him. David, we learn, has just gone through a breakup and is also perhaps hoping to find something missing from his life on the road.
We meet a colourful cast of characters along the way, amongst them men of few words and a woman (Squibb) with plenty, most capable of turning the air blue.
Dern, often the go-to guy to play psychos, is cast against type and gives what may rank as the performance of his career, his crankiness masking the vulnerability of a man who has lost his way but may yet gain some form of redemption.
It’s a charming film the likes of which don’t make it on to our screens that often.
Screening at Eden Court until Thursday 2nd January.