Nebraska Movie Review: Bruce Dern and Will Forte Dig Deep in Complex Family Story from Alexander Payne

Review: In classic Alexander Payne fashion, the setup for Nebraska is equal parts funny, sad, and deeply personal. And the payoff is well worth the wait due to remarkably nuanced and layered performances from Bruce Dern and Will Forte as a complicated father-son duo.

will forte bruce dern nebraska film alexander payne
Bruce Dern and Will Forte in Nebraska (2013), directed by Alexander Payne

Nebraska Movie Review

A stylish and melancholic family tale with enough new strands to set itself apart from prior Alexander Payne movies, Nebraska soothes you into submission. It isn’t necessarily an abrasive or acidic film the same way many of his earliest efforts were – Election and Sideways being amongst his most popular and cementing his auteur status – but the movie still operates in familiar territory.

And it starts with the film’s exploration of a family in crisis. Nebraska follows an estranged son David (Will Forte), who’s forced to follow his aging father Woody (Bruce Dern) to Nebraska to prove he’s won a million dollars, when in reality the whole thing’s a sham. Forte and Dern dominate the screen, each lending their talents to the signature Alexander Payne script and tone. It doesn’t take itself too seriously in the moment, but this adult drama explores (in great detail) a family who hasn’t learned to communicate with one another.

During their travels, David and Woody reconcile the habits that caused the two to drift apart, from Woody’s booze-addled day-to-day life to David’s inability to hold a steady relationship and commit to those around him. The movie ties closely to some of my favorite Payne films, which usually explore how hurt people find solace in those with similar circumstances – think the aforementioned Sideways or The Holdovers.

Reviews for Movies like Nebraska (2013)

The style of Nebraska often feels cold and calculated. The signature black-and-white cinematography eats away at the edges of the screen, engulfing you in a constant sense of sorrow and dread. Bruce Dern and Will Forte both deliver closed performances, where it takes many small details in order to put together the bigger picture. Neither main character offers much to the other; they have to peel back the layers of scar tissue throughout the entire movie in order to find resolution.

And Nebraska has many of the small details that usually flourish in Alexander Payne movies. The final sequence of the film is stellar – perfectly set up by a few fleeting moments prior. The payoff is well worth the setup. And in classic Alexander Payne fashion, the setup is equal parts funny, sad, and deeply personal.


Genre: Adventure, Drama

Watch Nebraska (2013) on Paramount+, Amazon Prime Video, and VOD here

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Nebraska Movie Cast and Credits

nebraska movie review 2013


Bruce Dern as Woody Grant

Will Forte as David Grant

June Squibb as Kate Grant

Bob Odenkirk as Ross Grant

Stacy Keach as Ed Pegram


Director: Alexander Payne

Writer: Bob Nelson

Cinematography: Phedon Papamichael

Editor: Kevin Tent

Composer: Mark Orton

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