Blu-ray Review Comedy

Prize-Winning Blu-ray Review: Nebraska

February 26, 2014Ben MK

  Share on Tumblr  
      Delicious Add to Delicious  

Fifty shades of grey

By Ben Mk

Before the advent of color film stock, films were produced in black and white out of plain old necessity. But even after filmmaking crossed the threshold into glorious technicolor in the 1950's, the black and white format continued to retain a certain artistic integrity that filmmakers still embrace to this day. From modern classics like The Elephant Man, Raging Bull and Ed Wood to the recent Much Ado About Nothing, Frances Ha and Nebraska, monochromaticity is far from dead. In fact, as Alexander Payne's Nebraska so perfectly illustrates, sometimes it's the only way to tell a story.

Woody Grant (Bruce Dern) is a man of few words who likes nothing better than downing a couple of beers and enjoying some peace and quiet. That is, until he receives a notice in the mail, informing him that he's won a million-dollar sweepstakes prize. Since then, he's been wandering the streets on his own, trying to find his way to the prize office in Lincoln, Nebraska, to claim his prize winnings. The problem: Woody lives in Billings, Montana — four states away. The other problem: he hasn't really won anything (other than a chance to top up his magazine subscriptions). But he refuses to let anything come between him and his million dollars, so much so that his son, David (Will Forte), eventually agrees to drive him to Lincoln — despite the misgivings of his brother, Ross (Bob Odenkirk), and mother, Kate (June Squibb). Along the way, the pair make a stopover in Woody's home town of Hawthorne, where they encounter family, friends and ghosts from Woody's past. But when word gets out that he's a soon-to-be millionaire, that's when everyone and everything — including secrets long since forgotten — come out of the woodwork.

The black and white picture lets audiences know that this isn't a film brimming with action and adventure; it's a quirky character drama. So with that in mind, the film had better brings its best to the table in the acting department — and it does. Dern is on point as Woody, the sarcastic patriarch whose quiet and sometimes unpleasant exterior belies the charitable heart of a man who only wants the best for his family. Although best known for his comedic work, Forte is note-perfect as the straight man to Dern's character. Likewise, Odenkirk turns in a grounded performance as David's oftentimes bewildered brother, who's incredulous of the whole situation but grows to accept it for what it is. But it's really Squibb, as the outspoken and feisty family matriarch, who steals the show with some of the best lines in the film. Her low-key, yet outrageously funny, portrayal of Kate stands out as the film's most memorable character.

Nebraska is a character study, after all — and what better way to study the characters than through the lens of Phedon Papamichael's stark cinematography, which captures the essence of every frame with unflinching honesty. The absence of color makes it easy to appreciate the nuances of the image — to find the story in every character's face. Even static shots of landscapes resemble iconic works of art, making a location like Hawthorne feel like a character itself. The Blu-ray transfer excels at promoting the timeless appeal of the film, reproducing its sharp black and white photography with impeccable clarity and shadow detail, and with gorgeous depth of image to boot. And the accompanying DTS-HD Master Audio 3.0 soundtrack delivers a listening experience that's always crystal clear and intelligible, whether it's pumping out the film's darkly comedic dialog or the guitar-plucking and horn-blowing of composer Mark Orton's score. Because let's face it, there's really no need for another 2.1 channels of audio in a film that's as heavy on dialog as this.

The Blu-ray release includes a DVD copy of the film, as well as a code redeemable for an UltraViolet or iTunes digital copy. Otherwise, the lone special feature on the disc is the aptly titled, The Making of Nebraska. The twenty-nine minute making-of documentary covers the basics of the film's production — including the origins of Bob Nelson's script, the considerations that went into the casting and locations and the implications of shooting in black and white — and features interview segments from the filmmakers and the principle cast. It's certainly a case of quality over quantity; and, despite its brevity, viewers will surely come away from the documentary with a renewed appreciation and understanding of the film.

A black and white film can be a hard sell in Hollywood these days, but for a film like Nebraska, it's hard to imagine it any other way. Director Alexander Payne and writer Bob Nelson's story about what happens when a son who never really knew his father finds out more than he could every imagine rings true with its sharp writing and painfully honest portrayals of family relationships, and its impact is only heightened by the monochromatic aesthetic. The Blu-ray release flaunts a striking A/V presentation that doesn't water down the film's beautiful cinematography, and the special features — though brief — are nonetheless insightful, making Nebraska on Blu-ray well worth crossing state lines for.

Disc Breakdown
The Film  —  ★★★½
Audio/Visual Fidelity  —  ★★★★½
Special Features  —  ★★★

* Reviewer's note: Portions of this Blu-ray review were adapted from my original review of the theatrical release, published on November 22nd, 2013.

You May Also Like