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Michael Sragow Crafts a Loving Ode to Payne’s Work in “Nebraska”

In response to Michael Sragow’s 1210‑word review of Nebraska on Orange County Register

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Michael Sragow’s “Bruce Dern glorious in his own private ‘Nebraska’” paints a beautiful portrait of Alexander Payne’s new heartland drama.

Sragow’s opening nails the film with a precision and eloquence that appropriately leads the way to a heartfelt, understated, and affecting piece of film criticism.

There’s a quiet passion here that mirrors the film’s black and white cinematography; it’s slow and studied in the best possibly way, taking its time to marinate and reflect on the film’s subtleties (even the title is given a once-over).

Some critics fall into the dangerous trap of simply describing scenes from the film to make their points (and here the critic treads precariously close to doing so himself), but Sragow highlights specific passages as linchpins (not crutches) to strengthen his broader critiques in a broader sense.

While Dern is the star of this show, Will Forte “carries the movie” and Phedon Papamichal’s “lovingly exact” cinematography makes Nebraska a “wide open prairie of a movie.”

In the midst of this love fest, Sragow falls prey to pretension here and there. Saying the cinematography “evokes the textures of piercing memories and fading illusions” sounds great, but doesn’t mean much.

It’s not enough to keep this one out of the realm of greatness, though, and it deserves to be near the top of your list.    

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