Brian Henry Martin at the movies

Why Bruce Is The Boss

Published Thursday, 05 December 2013
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No not Campbell, Lee or Willis. Forty years ago in The Cowboys, this Bruce played a ruthless outlaw who shockingly gunned down John Wayne in cold blood.

But this dastardly act kick-started a colourful career in films like The Great Gatsby, Silent Running and Coming Home.

Now, seventy six year old Bruce Dern is back and better than ever, playing a stubborn-as-a-mule senior citizen hell bent on a fool-hearty mission in the bittersweet road movie, Nebraska.

The journey begins in glorious black and white along the snow covered streets of Billings, Montana. Walking out of town and towards the camera is a gruff old man, shuffling slowly in search of an impossible dream. This is the irascible and forgetful Woody Grant (Bruce Dern), who is convinced he has won a million dollars in a sweepstake scam.

"Where are you going to?" asks a highway patrolman, Woody doesn't answer, he just points to where his prize awaits, seventy hundred and fifty miles south-east in Lincoln, Nebraska.

"You know what I'd do with a million dollars?" says his long suffering spouse Kate (June Squibb) "I'd put him in a home". But their estranged son David (Will Forte) has a different idea and agrees to drive his Dad on an epic wild-goose chase: one that will end either in riches or ditches.

On the way they encounter some old friends and family, as well as some old enemies; all of whom wish to take advantage of Woody's supposed good fortune. David, meanwhile, begins to understand his father better and discover the real man behind the crabby old boozer. "You'd be a drunk too" he tells his son, "if you were married to your mother".

Like his previous adventures, About Schmidt, Sideways and The Descendants, director Alexander Payne has a unique knack of sending odd characters on unexpected journeys. Sweet and sour, funny and sad all at the same time, Nebraska is an affectionate but refreshingly unsentimental portrait of small-town America, and the complex, often troubled, relationships grown-up children have with their ageing parents.

In one memorable scene, the family revisit the old abandoned Grant homestead "This was my parents room" says Woody, recalling the remnants of his childhood "I got whipped if they found me in here. I guess no ones going to whip me now." All the cast are sparkling, especially Stacy Keach as Woody's nemesis, Ed Peagram who almost steals the film, with a karaoke rendition of 'In The Ghetto' in a Mid-West restaurant.

But Nebraska belongs to Dern, whose day-dreamer dad with a face of stone and a heart of gold is a career high.

It has been a memorable year for the veteran American actor who emerged from the shadows to scoop the prestigious Best Actor prize at the Cannes Film Festival.

Affectionate and heart-warming, Nebraska is an absolute joy.

Nebraska (Cert 15) opens at the QFT on Friday 6th December.

© UTV News
B. H. Martin
B. H. Martin

Brian Henry Martin is an accomplished documentary filmmaker and UTV's resident film critic, appearing regularly on UTV Live Tonight.

No matter what the film, there's a good chance Brian has seen it.


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