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Nebraska (Blu-ray Review)

NebraskaAlexander Payne’s Nebraska had been making the rounds in 2013 winning many accolades based on the performance of long time acting veteran Bruce Dern.  Come time for the Academy Awards’ picks for the best of 2013, Nebraska proved even moreso winning nominations for Best Picture, Best Actor (Bruce Dern), Best Actress (June Squibb), Best Director (Alexander Payne) and Best Original Screenplay (Bob Nelson).  While it may not be a clear frontrunner for any of these awards, these nominations are recognition enough for this terrific little film.  And just in time before the awards are handed out, you can check out the film people have been raving about on glorious Blu-ray as it will be release on February 25th (the Oscars take place on March 2nd).  After the review, get you copy in time by pre-ordering using the link below!

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Film 

Old man Woody Grant is caught walking in traffic in his home of Billings, Montana.  When his son picks him up from the police station, Woody tells him he was heading to Lincoln, Nebraska because he was sent a letter telling him he had won one million dollars.  When David (his son) looks over the letter, its clear that the sweepstakes is just a scam to sell magazines.  But, his father persists and is caught trying to walk to Lincoln twice more.  David and his brother discuss a retirement home, but David opts to just let the man have what he wants and offers to drive him to Lincoln to just let the man see this out and move on.

On their way, Woody (who is an alcoholic) disappears and goes binge drinking.  Upon returning to his hotel, he falls and cracks his head real good on the dresser.  He’s told to take it easy and return home but refuses.  Instead, David and Woody take a detour to Woody’s hometown of Hawthrone, Nebraska where his wife and David’s brother will meet them and they will spend time with Woody’s brothers and other family.  During this time a lot of Woody’s past is revealed to David and many true colors from old friends and townsfolk are stirred up.

Nebraska is quieter, patient film that delivers wonderfully in 3 separate aspects.  First, it give you that nice “indie film” kind of feel that has a unique flavor.  The film also has some really great and wholesome comedy to it without having anything going over the top or getting crazy.  Every joke is natural to its story, genuine and completely earned.  Lastly, what seems like a lot of one-note characters and archetypes turns into a rather deep and developed character drama.  As Woody’s story unfolds, each person becomes much more sympathetic and human.  You’d think you could peg these folks for who they are at first sight, but by the end you’ve got a whole new idea and full understanding of who they are.

I really enjoy Alexander Payne’s decision to shoot this in black and white.  It helps even more to hit home the idea of the small town with not many option when it comes to things to do outside of a career.  In that regard, the town of Hawthorne is literally devoid of color.  There was a great line from the character of Peg Nagy when David refers to his father’s drinking about there not being really anything else to do in Hawthrone.  And really this rings pretty true.  It’s almost like college in a small town, where aside from classes, there really isn’t much for a student to do on the weekends aside from drinking as if it were a competitive sport.  This is going to sound like a weird comparison, but I think Payne has done here for Hawthorne, Nebraska what Jared Hess did for Preston, Idaho in Napoleon Dynamite.  He’s crafted such a natural and real experience that it almost feels like you’ve gone on this trip and been to this town as well.

Being that this is, on the surface, a simpler plot a lot of this film’s successes rely on the performances.  Bruce Dern has been every bit as good as he’s been given credit.  However, I think the overlooked portion of the film has been Will Forte.  Its odd to see him in such an incredibly straight role, but he really nails it and succeeds without stepping on anyone’s toes.  If anything, he’s most impressive and we can expect great work from Dern as his body of work over decades has show.  Another fun performance I don’t see many mentioning is Stacy Keach.  I guess maybe because he’s playing that very Stacy Keach archetype, but I’ve always been a fan of the actor and its great to see him playing such a rat bastard again.  To its detriment, the cast here is able to really make you recognize these people and relate in a way that you might know of someone or of a people similar (being raised in the Midwest, it was easy for me).

There was a great sense of restraint to the film that I appreciated a lot.  It didn’t go beyond or try to be more than the story it was telling.  The film never went grand and never wanted to try and crutch on all of our emotions.  Nebraska set out to what it intended to do and no more.  With many pictures of this type it’d be easy to try and go for some incredibly dramatic finish, be it an incredibly happy ending or the gut punch to try and win your sadness.  Instead, Nebraska does what it’s characters have done; it makes due and makes the best of what it has.  There’s some real drama in the film, but as in life, they’ll all get over it and move on.

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Video 

Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 2:39.1

Clarity/Detail:  There’s plenty of good detail here like nose hairs, dents in trucks, wood panels on houses and stucco walls.

Depth:  The detail fights through to produce three-dimensional characters.  A lot of the backgrounds are kind of blurred giving the foreground a 3D feel.

Black Levels: Has some natural looking, but not the deepest black. There are some deep blacks in dark scenes.

Color Reproduction:  Well, haha, there is some careful work here in producing a nice scheme and saturation between blacks, grays and whites.

Flesh Tones:  Flesh tones are what they are here, being that the film is black and white.  There is some grand detail on facial stubble and age spots on Bruce Dern’s heads.  Wrinkles on elderly people also enrich this detailed picture.

Noise/Artifacts: There is a thin layer of grain, and with this being in black and white it sort of eats away at some of the detail, but not much.

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Audio 

Audio Format(s): English 3.0 DTS-HD MA, French 3.0, Spanish 3.0, German 3.0, English Audio Description

Subtitles: English, English SDH, French Spanish, German

Dynamics:  This is a very loud track. It’s also got some good ambience, particularly in the bar scene.

Low Frequency Extension:  As this is a 3.0 track there is no subwoofer play present.

Surround Sound Presentation: Again, everything comes at your from the front.

Dialogue Reproduction:  Dialogue is clear and intelligent.

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Extras 

Nebraska comes with a DVD copy and Digital copy of the film.  It’s extremely light on the extras, but the one it does have is ok.

The Making Of Nebraska (HD, 28:50) – From inception to release, this chronicles the journey of getting this film started after Sideways came out to actually shooting it.  It seems very EPK-ish, but provides a much more rich insight and detailed look at the production even if a lot of it includes the back patting fluff that comes with the onset and promotional interviews.

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Summary 

While I really enjoyed this movie and its got a good presentation, for as much acclaim as the film has received, I’m surprised at this very minimal release.  And its not the type of movie I really see a beefed up edition coming down the pipeline.  I think it’s a film worth owning from a film appreciation standpoint, but for collector’s edition enthusiasts and for others this might just be a really great rental.  Hard to say, but I give this a high recommendation based on the film itself as I feel its strong enough and something I can see many going back to giving it some good replay value.  Be on the lookout for this one at the Oscars to see if it ends up racking up any awards!


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Writer/Reviewer, lifelong obsessive film nerd. As eager to educate in the world of film as I am to learn. An avid lover of horror, schlock and trash, Brandon hosts the Cult Cinema Cavalcade podcast on the Creative Zombie Studios Network (www.cultcinemacavalcade.com) You can also find more essays on his blog Naptown Nerd (naptownnerd.blogspot.com).

2 Responses to “Nebraska (Blu-ray Review)”


  1. Brian White

    I can get behind this review, B.
    When I first talked to you I thought you would give this a 5, but I can definitely get behind your score of 4.
    The only thing I would debate would be the video score, but no biggie. I understand where you are coming from.
    Thanks for covering this!!!

  2. Aaron Neuwirth

    I found it interesting how this film grew on me more and more. It helped that it works as a nice Father/Son movie and I saw it with my father, but I kept thinking about it afterward and grew to appreciate more and more about it. Looking forward to eventually seeing it again (hopefully in a special edition, or something).