11/12/2013 07:15 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Movie Review: Nebraska


It's interesting to see the way filmmakers stake out certain emotional territory as their own over the course of a career.

Steven Spielberg is consumed with the notion of wonder, though he obviously has more arrows than that in his quiver. Martin Scorsese, in his own heaven/hell construct, seems fascinated by the human appetite for self-destruction. Ang Lee tends to focus on longing and regret.

And, over the course of six films, Alexander Payne has created a body of work that focuses on the effects of and rebellion against disappointment. His latest, as witty and moving in its way as The Descendants, is Nebraska, a surprisingly funny tone poem on roots and separation and, yes, disappointment.

Shot in black and white, which seems fitting, Nebraska starts in Billings, Mont., with the image of a lone old man walking down a sidewalk and, by the time the credits end, the side of an interstate (at least until a cop stops him and takes him in for seeming confused).

His name is Woody Grant and, as played by Bruce Dern in the performance of his career, he is a retired mechanic who has received one of those sweepstakes letters meant to lure suckers into subscribing to magazines. "You may already have won $1 million," it says. To Woody, that's not a maybe, it's a promise.

This review continues on my website.