Alexander Payne’s extraordinary ‘Nebraska’

Filmmaker Alexander Payne has a subtle gift of infusing the most fraught of relationships with a quiet humanity. He’s particularly astute at catching the crosscurrents when it comes to men: George Clooney’s grieving but betrayed spouse in “The Descendants,” Paul Giamatti’s conflicted writer in “Sideways,” Jack Nicholson’s prickly retiree making amends, sort of, in “About Schmidt.” His latest, “Nebraska,” with a fine script by Bob Nelson, will stand alongside his best. Bruce Dern’s aging failure of a father and June Squibb’s long-suffering and insufferably nagging wife stand in for countless couples worn out by life and each other. The movie is filled with many textures of disappointment, but central is the way in which age itself begins to undermine you. Dern is quite extraordinary as Woody Grant, out to claim his million-dollar prize from a Publisher’s Clearing House-style operation. Failing body, failing mind, yet irascible and implacable, the actor embodies the final fight — when a chance to make things right seems almost within reach.


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