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Bruce Dern's 'Transcendent Performance' In 'Nebraska'

Nov 15, 2013
Originally published on November 15, 2013 9:49 am
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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Back in May at the Cannes film festival, Bruce Dern won the best acting award for "Nebraska." That movie is now opening in theaters in the U.S. and here's film critic Kenneth Turan with a review.

KENNETH TURAN, BYLINE: It's the letter everyone's received. The one that says you've won a million dollars but is actually about selling magazine subscriptions. But what if someone truly believed they'd won that million? And what if that individual was your crabby, cranky father and he insisted on going to prize headquarters to collect his money? In person.

That is the premise of Alexander Payne's poignant and ruefully funny "Nebraska." It's shot in beautiful wide screen black and white and it allows 77-year-old Bruce Dern the opportunity to give the performance of a lifetime as Woodrow T. Grant, Woody to his friends. "Nebraska" opens with Woody lurching unsteadily towards us down a busy highway. But where is he going? His son David, played by "Saturday Night Live's" Will Forte, soon finds out.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "NEBRASKA")

TURAN: David eventually agrees to drive his father, just to prove him wrong. Woody is stubborn and bad-tempered and circumstances beyond David's control detour the trip to the fictional hamlet of Hawthorne, Nebraska, Woody's home town.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "NEBRASKA")

TURAN: Woody can't help but tell folks about his million dollar windfall and he soon becomes the talk of the town.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "NEBRASKA")

TURAN: These characters are all unknowing participants in a comedy of the everyday absurd but everyone in the film is allowed the dignity of being doggedly themselves, delusions and all. None of this would have been possible without Bruce Dern's transcendent performance as the battered and baffled Woody. His character reminds us, as does this wonderful film, how little it takes to make us happy, and how hard it is to get even that.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MONTAGNE: Kenneth Turan reviews movies for MORNING EDITION and the Los Angeles Times. This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And I'm Steve Inskeep. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.