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Featured Blu-ray / DVD Review: Nebraska

February 23rd, 2014

Nebraska - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray Combo Pack

Nebraska is one of the major players during this year's Awards Season earning six Oscar nominations. That sets up really high expectations. Then again, it's a movie directed by Alexander Payne. That alone sets up really high expectations. Can the film live up to The Descendants' high quality? If it can't, is it still worth checking out?

The Movie

The film begins with Woody Grant walking along the side of the highway. It's winter and he's walking from Billings, Montana, to Lincoln, Nebraska. That's a journey of 1,367 kilometers, or 850 miles. This is not the first time he's attempted this, but this time he's stopped by a cop, who is obviously a little concerned about someone his age walking alone. His son, David, gets him from the police station. Woody has been acting up lately, much to the annoyance of his wife, Kate, and his other son, Ross. It seems Woody got a letter in the mail saying he's won $1 million and he wants to go to Lincoln, Nebraska to collect. Clearly it's a scam. Everyone has told him that, but he doesn't believe it. Kate is pissed at Woody and Ross thinks its time to put Woody in a home. David, on the other hand, it a lot more sympathetic. He realizes that Woody doesn't have much to live for, and this $1 million dream is something to hold on to. David is a lot more sympathetic, because he can sympathize with that feeling. Recently his long time girlfriend, Noel, left him because their relationship just sort of fizzled out. His life seems on autopilot as well.

After another incident in which Woody tries to take the bus to Nebraska, David agrees to drive him there instead. David figures if his father goes, it will get it out of his system. If they leave now, they can get there on Friday, deal with the "winnings" and get back by the time David needs to get back to work for Monday. Of course, now his mom thinks he's just as crazy as his father is. The trip starts out a little dull, but while David is gassing up the car, Woody goes to the bar and has a beer. This shouldn't be noteworthy, except Woody is a recovering alcoholic. That night while David is sleeping in their motel room, one beer turns into a full bender and Woody returns, he falls and receives a very nasty cut on his head. Because of the injury and Woody's age, the doctor wants him to stay in the hospital overnight. Now they won't be able to get there by Friday, so at first David decides they should just turn around, but instead they push on. There is a small silver lining here. They have family in nearby Hawthorne, Nebraska, so they organize an impromptu family reunion with Woody's brother, Ray; Ray's wife, Martha; and David's two cousins, Cole and Bart.

This is essentially all you need to know of the plot. It is the interactions between the characters that matter, not the plot developments per se. As for the characters, I have one concern. There were a few times were I was wondering if perhaps Alexander Payne was poking fun at the characters in a way that was a little exploitative rather than coming from a place of affection. He was born in Nebraska, so these are his people and gentle ribbing is expected. However, there is a fine line between laughing with people you grew up with and their little quirks and laughing at people and in this movie there were a couple of times where I didn't know if he had crossed the line. On the other hand, that's literally my only complaint and I'm not sure if it is legitimate or not. Everything else is amazing.

The quality of the film begins with the first-time script from Bob Nelson, which is a masterpiece in how to develop real drama from simple characters. Sometimes this is simple as in uncomplicated; these characters are not layers upon layers of secret motivations, but your average everyday people living normal lives. On the other hand, sometimes they feel simple, as is a little slow in the head. This is where I'm a little worried the writer and the director are making fun of these people. There are also a lot of very funny moments throughout the movie and the balance between the comedy and the drama is spot on. The acting is fantastic across the board, especially from Bruce Dern, who has rightly earned a lot of Awards Season praise for his lead performance. The supporting actors are also great. June Squibb also earned an Oscar nomination for her performance, while Will Forte has been mostly overshadowed, despite his Independent Spirit Award nomination.

The Extras

There is only one extra on the DVD and the Blu-ray, which is disappointing. On the other hand, it is nearly 30 minutes long, so it is a meaty making of featurette.

The technical presentation is good, but not great. The black and white cinematography is excellent here with great details and excellent contrast. There's no compression issues or digital artifacts to mention. The audio, on the other hand, is... clear but uncomplicated. It's a 3.0 track. I don't think I've ever seen this before. The dialogue is always clear and the score is never intrusive, but the surround sound speakers are just not part of the equation. Than again, it is a dialogue driven dramedy, so clear dialogue is by far the most important aspect of the film.

The Blu-ray costs just $20, which is $3 or 18% more than the DVD.

The Verdict

Nebraska is one of the best movies from 2013, and even though I think it will get shut out on Oscar night, it is worth picking up. There are not a lot of extras on the DVD or the Blu-ray Combo Pack, but the one featurette we get is worth watching. Finally, the Blu-ray is clearly the better deal.

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Filed under: Video Review, Nebraska, Bruce Dern, Missy Doty, Will Forte, Rance Howard, Bob Odenkirk, Alexander Payne, Devin Ratray, June Squibb, Mary Louise Wilson, Bob Nelson, Tim Driscoll