Alexander Payne has spent fifteen years carving a particular niche for himself on the American independent scene, showing an impressive consistency from the undeserved flopĀ Citizen Ruth (which was very much interfered with) to the modest success of Election and the breakout hits of About Schmidt, Sideways and The Descendants. Slipping into black-and-white and dropping down a few gears in terms of star names might seem like a step backwards, but Nebraska has not only enjoyed a reasonably good financial return, but it might be the closest he’s come yet to that masterpiece he’s often flirted close to but never quite nailed.

Laying its allegorical cards on the table pretty heavily, this is essentially a story of a father and son who go on a road trip but whose real journey is – yes – an internal one. It’s also about the awkwardness of familial relationships, with some fine performances which help bring a real sense of truthfulness to all the uncomfortable silences and awkward exchanges of dialogue. Bruce Dern is fantastic here – he not only nails the wandering-yet-determined mind of senility, but he also shines in his lucid moments, showing glimpses of the young man he used to be. June Squibb also walks away with the best lines, stealing every scene with her an acerbic wit that only people of a certain age, who just no longer give a shit who they offend, can manage.

As with almost every modern film shot in black and white these days, there is also some incredible cinematography on display here by Phedon Papamichael. The stark, washed-out landscape of the Great Plains becomes essentially an externalisation of Bruce Dern’s decaying mindset – the characters all seems lost in it the vastness of it all. Otherwise it’s business as usual in Payne territory, with some perfectly-placed dialogue, a few hilarious set-pieces and a lingering sense of melancholy.

Bruce Dern9
June Squibb9
Phedon Papamichael10
Alexander Payne8
Bechdel Test Passes
  • Features more than one named female character
  • The female characters talk to each other
  • They talk about something other than men
Bechdel Test Failures
  • This is a close one, there are a handful of very brief conversations
8Overall Score

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