During the 1970s, Bruce Dern‘s reputation as a fine character actor was established by films such as They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? (1969), Silent Running (1972), Black Sunday (1977), The Driver (1978) and Coming Home (1978), for which he was nominated for an Oscar. More recently, he has appeared in Inside Out (2011), Django Unchained (2012) and From Up on Poppy Hill (2012).
He has also (quite deservedly) received a nod from the Academy for Nebraska (2013), in which he stars as aging, booze-addled father Woody Grant who, convinced that he has won a million dollars in a Mega Sweepstakes Marketing prize scam, takes a trip all the way from from Montana to Nebraska with his estranged son David (Will Forte), in order to collect his ‘winnings’. En route, he is set to visit the small town of his birth, where he is seemingly welcomed by his old friends and family, but soon discovers that they are really only interested in the money they believe he has won. David, meanwhile, while playing along with his father’s fantasy for the sake of spending some time with him, comes to realise that there is much more to the old man than meets the eye.
It’s rare to find such a genuinely sweet, affecting film – Dern is excellent as the cantankerous, bitter but nevertheless proud Woody, as is June Squibb as his long-suffering wife Kate who, while seeming to have no more time for her man, nevertheless has a deep and abiding love for him.
Alexander Payne, who also made the excellent About Schmidt (2002) and Sideways (2004), coaxes moving and real performances from his entire cast, in a film that speaks poignantly of regret, loss and frustration without resort to melodrama – you will be torn, as I was, between rooting for Woody and wishing that he, and his dysunctional family, would simply get a grip, and the ending is unexpected, uplifting and genuinely moving. Best of luck with the gong, old son.