Along the way, they visit gold-digging relatives and old friends in an array of characters and interaction spot on. Shooting in widescreen black-and-white, Payne says that as soon as he read Bob Nelson's script, he saw the film in black-and-white to capture this reality. Sweeping Midwest landscapes contrast perfectly with confined interior spaces, and Payne lets us contemplate the gorgeous sweep of the sky and the fields with huge hay bales.
He also gets minute details perfect in kitchens, living rooms, even doorways with height marks in pencil. To be this accurate, Payne had his usual cinematographer Phedon Papamichael shoot in real locations. You can't fake this perfection. I'm also in awe of the way Payne builds scenes through an unhurried pace. Episodes often begin quietly, a measured unfolding. Nothing is rushed and yet this nearly two hour film, that I've seen twice now and am eager to see a third time, never drags and feels shorter than it is. That's the sign of a consummate director totally in charge of revelations of character and story.
A good artist is one who can tread that boundary between pointing out the weaknesses and limitations of his subjects and at the same time not criticize or mock them. Payne's humor is never judgmental but springs from recognizing these people as us. Payne manages this in choosing characters, settings, and events that reveal the truth of the locality as well as the truth of the universality found there. Great artists show people's blemishes and limitations, but at the same time recognize and feel an identity with them. In "Nebraska," Payne affectionately and astutely has scenes of people watching television, chatting little, having breakfast or a beer.
Bruce Dern as Woody, Will Forte as his younger son and Bob Odenkirk as the older son become them and hold a mirror up to us. "Nebraska" is a funny, insightful film for everyone with a sense of humor about life. At a Landmark Theatre.