'Nebraska' is another masterstroke from Alexander Payne.
After taking it easy with the breezy yet assured The Descendants, Alexander Payne appears to have gotten back his social bite with Nebraska, his road-movie with a difference starring Bruce Dern and Will Forte.
Bruce Dern [L] and Will Forte [R] in 'Nebraska'
The black-and-white movie which found considerable acclaim at the festivals follows a tempestuous Missouri father (Dern) who's convinced he's won a million dollar magazine sweepstakes. His son (Forte) grudgingly agrees to drive him to Nebraska to claim his winnings.
While in-production on About Schmidt with Jack Nicholson, Payne was given Bob Nelson's screenplay for Nebraska and agreed to direct. After reading it, Payne immediately thought of Bruce Dern for the role of the elderly father Woody Grant, however, he met with over 50 actors because studio Paramount demanded a big-star, shortlisting Robert De Niro, Gene Hackman, Robert Duvall, Jack Nicholson and Robert Forster. Attempts to meet with Hackman failed due to his retirement, though Payne stepped up his approach of Dern who was ultimately cast.
The role of son David Grant was desired by several notably Hollywood actors, including Breaking Bad's Bryan Cranston who read for the role but was deemed a bad fit by Payne. Others considered included Paul Rudd, Casey Affleck and Matthew Modine, who spoke publically about being considered.
Ultimately, the comedian Forte was selected partly because Payne believed he could physically be the son of Bruce Dern and June Squib [who play's Woody's long-suffering wife, Kate].
Reviews of the movie have been hugely positive.
"Summations can't convey the filmmaking delicacy that marries tart-tongued comedy with unexpected warmth in a story that touches on family, memory, getting old and staying alive," said Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times.
""Nebraska" is a ruthless social satire that proves Payne hasn't lost his misanthropic edge after going gentle with "The Descendants,"" said Andew O'Hehir of Salon.com.
""Nebraska'' has enough good lines, scenes and performances to make it worth your while, as well as a sufficiently upbeat ending to qualify it as holiday entertainment," wrote Lou Lumenick of the New Yorker.
"With stunning black-and-white cinematography by Phedon Papamichael and a wistful fiddle score by Mark Orton, its contemplative pace feels just right," wrote Dana Stevens of Slate.com.
It's difficult to imagine Nebraska trumping the likes of Captain Phillips and 12 Years a Slave at the Oscars - it's currently 40/1 to win Best Picture - though Alexander Payne and Bruce Dern may find themselves hard done by should they not themselves on the ballot.
Nebraska is out in the U.S. today.