Nebraska (Film review)

Nebraska (DVD) jpg

I have found one of my new favorite films ín Nebraska. It already ranks up there with films such as Station Agent, Bruce McDonald’s Roadkill and Highway 61 and a few of Jim Jarmusch’s early films (just to name a few) although I have only seen it once so far. The latter being a rather obvious comparison, as Nebraska is, like Jarmusch’s Down By Law and Stranger Than Paradise, shot in b/w, and extremely beautifully at that, but more about that a bit later. Whereas Jarmusch’s films are always on the ‘cool’ side with musicians, DJ’s, hookers, pimps and the like in them, Nebraska is all about everyday people and their stories. It’s also a quiet, slow-paced, humane and has got an almost gentle feel to it in how the people in it are portrayed.

The film begins in Billings, MT (with the first few shots of rail lines and nearly deserted streets in winter that made me realise that I was in for a treat straight away). Old, frail and stubborn alcoholic Woody, played outstandingly well by Bruce Dern, falls for a scam letter, believing he has won a million dollars. He promptly decides to go to Lincoln, NE to collect his winnings and buy, for once in his life, a brand new pickup truck. His son, Dave, and Woody’s slightly vulgar and highly overbearing wife Kate try their best to convince him of the true nature of that letter, to no avail. Dave, also brilliantly played by Will Forte, an actor I previously only knew from a hilarious and memorable guest role in Flight Of The Conchords, reluctantly agrees to drive his dad down to Nebraska to collect Woody’s make-believe winnings. A decision he quickly comes to regret, after Woody drunkenly falls and splits his head open and he has to take him to an ER.

To recuperate, Dave decides to take Woody to his hometown of Hawthorne, NE where most of Woody’s family still lives. Fictional Hawthorne is a rural community on the plains of Nebraska, typically characterised by agriculture and a sedate lifestyle.

The meeting with his extended family (some of them on the graveyard) and former friends, acquaintances and lovers however, doesn’t go as smoothly as Dave would have hoped. The news that Woody struck it rich dos make various family members and one especially persistent former business partner and friend claim a payout for long-forgotten or not-existent in the first place, debts. The large family at the reunion meal is a brilliantly portrayed cast of people, all of them small town, and most of them older folk. Especially curious are Dave’s two never-do-well cousins, first mocking him for taking two days to drive down from Montana, and later going so far as to spring on Woody and Dave coming out of a bar, balaclavas and all – and stealing that famed letter. The rather comic fight between one of the cousins and Dave’s brother, hotshot TV-presenter Ross (played by ‘Better call Saul’, Breaking Bad’s Bob Odenkirk) is hilarious indeed.

After these, for this somber, mostly melancholic film at least, comparatively tumultuous scenes, Dave agrees to finally go down to Lincoln to collect Woody’s imaginary winnings. They eventually make their way back to Montana without the million dollars, but with a new, well, actually 5-year old, but practically as-new Pickup truck which Dave lets Woody drive through his hometown. It’s a touching end to this lovely film, showing something of the fragile bond between a father and son that most probably haven’t been this close for ages.

As I hinted at earlier, this is a friendly, relaxed film in which nothing overly dramatic happens. I for one enjoy films like that a lot, there are enough films about cops, gangsters, pathologists and FBI people out there. This film is flying the flags for real people, trying to make the best of what they got and their all-too real problems. I was very impressed not only with the principal actors in the film, but also with the secondary ones and extras – they all look like genuinely like Midwestern, small-town inhabitants. Very nice.

The aspect I like best about Nebraska however is the photography. Each single scene in the film is perfectly framed and lighted, whether they are beautiful wide-angel landscape shots or small-town scenes quite a few of which are night shots. For somebody like me who loves the much-ridiculed Plains landscapes and the little towns dotted about it, the Nebraska is a feast for the eyes. Coupled with the superb acting, the lovely story and the impeccable directing, this is a film I will be cherishing for a very long time. Director Alexander Payne has of course done a quite similar-themed film before with About Schmidt, so he’s clearly got a lot of affection for his home state (he was born in Omaha). Although I did like that film a lot too, Nebraska in my opinion is the more successfully realised film of the two.





Fort Kearny, Nebraska

Fort Kearny was the first post on the Oregon Trail and in existence from 1848 to 1871. It was used as a way station and supply center for settlers on the way to Oregon and to protect them from Indian raids, which actually didn’t really occur at the fort. It was also used as a station on the Pony Express in 1860/1861. Another use in its last few years was to protect workers building the Union Pacific line towards the west. You can’t really tell how much life there must have been in here as only a few buildings have been rebuilt so far, but it’s still a fascinating place and the visitor center host a very informative exhibition telling the story of the fort and containing a wealth of artifacts from that period. Fort Kearny is located a few miles south of Kearney, NE

Blacksmith Shop, Fort Kearny, NebraskaBlacksmith shop

Fort Kearny, Nebraska

Fort Kearny, Nebraska

Powder magazine, Fort Kearny, Nebraska

Powder magazine

Fort Kearny, Nebraska

Rural Nebraska (Kearney/Franklin Counties)

Walt Whitman in Specimen Days said the following:

‘… while I know the standard claim is that Yosemite, Niagara Falls, the upper Yellowstone and the like, afford the greatest natural shows, I am not so sure about the Prairies and Plains, while less stunning at first sight, last longer, fill the esthetic sense fuller, precede all the rest and make North America’s characteristic landscape.’

I haven’t yet been to Yosemite, Niagara Falls or Yellowstone, but I have to say that what I saw of the Plains and Praries so definitely left a long-lasting mark on me and I am very much drawn to them. Here are a few photos capturing the affection I hold for this part of the US well, all taken in Kearney and Franklin Counties, Southern Nebraska

Rural Nebraska

Rural Nebraska

Rural Nebraska

Train line in Nebraska


Franklin, Nebraska

I passed through Franklin by chance on my way from Kearney to Red Cloud, but am very glad I did, if for the Lincoln Hotel alone. It seems to have been standing empty for some time, but at least it is still standing, I hope somebody will give it a new lease of life soon, it would be very sad indeed to lose a fine old structure like this. It is located in Franklin County in Southern Nebraska and close to the Kansas state line. It was founded in 1870 and the site of Franklin Academy from 1880 to 1921.  According to the city’s website ( its most famous alumni is Frank Cyr, the creator of the yellow school bus. The population is about 1000 people.

Lincoln Hotel, Franklin, NE

Franklin, Nebraska


Wahoo, Nebraska

Wahoo is a city with a population of about 4500 people and was the first stop I made after leaving Omaha (it’s located about 40 miles west of Omaha). I wanted to check out the Historical Park I read about. As it turned out it was well worth visiting. It’s a small affair with only a handful of buildings, but clearly a labor of love of those maintaining it.

Joe Bowers Memorial Historical Park, Wahoo, NE

Joe Bowers Memorial Historical park, Wahoo, NE

Burlington Route Caboose, Joe Bowers memorial Historical park, Wahoo, NE

Wahoo Burlington Depot, Wahoo, NE

Wahoo, NE

This torpedo in front of the Saunders County Court House is a memorial to the WW II submarine Wahoo.

WW II Submarine Wahoo memorial, Wahoo, NE

For more photos from Wahoo, check my Flickr at:

Brainard, NE

Brainard is a small town approx. 20 miles west of Wahoo and about 60 miles west of Omaha. I have made it a habit of getting off the highway or Interstate and visiting little towns/villages on my travels. Brainard is very much a typical Midwest small town. I like towns like this a lot.

Brainard, NE

Brainard, NE

Brainard, NE

Brainard, NE

Brainard, NE

Brainard, NE

Bone Creek Museum Of Agrarian Arts

Bone Creek Museum Of Agrarian Art

Bone Creek Museum Of Agrarian Art

The Bone Creek Museum of Agrarian Art was established back in 2008 in Regionalist painter Dale Nichols’ hometown David City, Nebraska. It’s fair to say that David City isn’t one of the US’s best established tourist destinations, but driving there you get a very good idea what must have inspired both Dale Nichols and the people who founded The Bone Creek museum.

I first became aware of the museum after purchasing the book published by Bone Creek called Dale Nichols Transcending Regionalism on a visit to the Cedar Rapids Museum Of Art back in March. I hadn’t been aware of Dale Nichols work either until I browsed the CRMA museum shop, but was immediately drawn to his work by the front cover of a winter scene with one of his trademark red barns (see the cover shot below). I plan to write a review of the book for this blog in the future, but at this stage I just want to say that I quickly became intrigued by his beautiful work and his interesting life story, and the book is a very fine piece of work by itself which I am happy to call my own.

Dale Nichols Transcending Regionalism front cover

Consequently, it didn’t take long for me when planning my next trip, to decide that I would be making a stop in David City and visit the museum. I was greeted very warmly by the woman at reception and her companion who was, luckily for me, very knowledgable about all things Dale Nichols and even went so far as to go down into the basement and get three of his paintings that weren’t actually hanging in the gallery. They only had one other of his works hanging there, but it was fantastic to see a few of them at last after studying the book repeatedly.

At the time I went  (September 2013) they were showing two very interesting exhibitions, one called Inspirations From The Black Hills showing works by artists that live in this region of South Dakota, most of the work on show was very good too. Also extremely exciting were various works in the show concurrently running called Highlights From The First Five Years. The most memorable work in that exhibition for me was one by Missouri artist John Roush depicting a country road bathed in sunshine in winter with deep snow on the road and the surrounding fields, I immediately fell in love with the painting. He mainly paints with pastel and had an exhibition at Bone Creek back in 2009/2010, I will definitely by checking out his work more thoroughly in the near future.

It’s a small, but apparently very active museum, lovingly refurbished and deserves to get all the support it can, it’s definitely what the art scene in a small-ish town needs. Their web address is , but better still, head out there yourself any pay them a visit. Besides, naturally, the only proper way to experience a piece of art is the first hand experience, the brush strokes, the contours of the paint are simply impossible to reproduce in a book or on a poster. The address is 575 E Street, David City, NE 68632. David City lies about 65 miles west of Omaha, and as I wrote at the beginning, the countryside on the drive there is beautiful.

The following photo shows the studio built by Dale’s brother Floyd, also an accomplished artist and craftsman. I know little of him as he never got the sort of attention his brother had, but apparently he mainly worked with sculptures. However, the Bone Creek Museum had one of his paintings hanging in their gallery which was very good indeed. I can’t really say how the studio is used nowadays.

Nichols Art Studio

To finish this post, here are a few photos I took in and around David City on my visit.

Thorpe Opera House

David City

David City, NE

Barn outside David City, NE