Film pick: Nebraska (NC16)

SINGAPORE - Woody Grant (Bruce Dern), crotchety and perhaps delusional, is convinced that a junk mail promising a million-dollar prize will actually pay off. To the consternation of his son David (Will Forte), Woody sets off on foot from his home in Montana, bound for Nebraska, 1,200km away, to collect the prize.

David opts to take the obstinate old man there by car to keep him safe. They stop by Woody's former hometown of Hawthorne, where they encounter friends and relatives who hear of the windfall.

Director Alexander Payne (nominated for Best Director for this and for The Descendants, 2011) bleaches the characters of rural exoticism or eccentricity.

Working with a script from TV writer Bob Nelson, making his feature debut, Payne clearly favours rustic authenticity over anything else. There are low-key comic observations scattered throughout, such as in a bit in which a family reunion of sorts takes place, despite everyone being glued to the TV. Or, when rural men find their manhood in their ability to drive from one point to another in the shortest possible time.

But what Payne seems to be mainly interested in is not comedy, but poignancy, a mood he achieves with wide shots of the old man limping towards what he thinks is his final answer, set to the new age-meets-bluegrass acoustic guitar of Mark Orton. Paynes amplifies the melancholy by shooting in black and white.

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