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Laramie Movie Scope: Nebraska

A story of family love on the Great Plains

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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December 11, 2013 -- The past catches up with a man of few words who returns to his home town with his son for the first time in many years. His son learns there is a lot more to his father than he ever knew in this warm, funny film that shows the best and worst in people.

This story unfolds in Nebraska, part of the Great Plains, the heartland of America. Time has not been kind to rural farming communities in this part of the country. The gray, worn look of Hawthorne, Neb., population 1,358 (a fictional name) looks even bleaker in the black and white spectrum of this movie, as Dave Grant (played by Will Forte of the “The Watch”) and his father, Woody Grant (Bruce Dern of “All the Pretty Horses”) drive into town.

Aunt Martha (Mary Louise Wilson of “Stepmom”) says, “This economy has just tore up Hawthorne.” Hawthorne is part of the distant past for Dave and Woody, and one Woody would just as soon forget. They came to Hawthorne by accident, part of a mad expedition to Lincoln, Neb. where Woody plans to claim his million dollar prize in a magazine subscription scheme. Dave and his brother, Ross (Bob Odenkirk of “The Spectacular Now”) have told him repeatedly that he hasn't won anything, but he won't listen.

After Woody is found repeatedly trying to walk to Lincoln from his home hundreds of miles away in Billings, Mont. (he no longer has a driver's license) Dave, in desperation, finally agrees to drive him to Lincoln. After Woody gets hurt in a fall, there is a travel delay, so they end up spending the weekend in Hawthorne in the home of Woody's brother, Ray, and his wife, Martha. Woody's wife, Kate (June Squibb of “About Schmidt”) comes down from Billings to join them there.

When Woody announces that he is going to be a millionaire, people assume he has won the lottery. One man tells him it is the biggest thing to happen in Hawthorne in a long time. A kid from the newspaper comes to take Woody's picture. While everyone wishes Woody well, the vultures also start circling, old friends and relatives start making demands for Woody's imaginary money. A somewhat threatening demand is made by Woody's old business partner, Ed Pegram (Stacy Keach of “The Bourne Legacy”). Then there a couple of relatives, Bart and Cole (Tim Driscoll and Devin Ratray), who are also trouble in their own clownish way.

Dave knows his father is an alcoholic and his mind is addled. He and his brother buy into the claims that his father also owes money in Hawthorne until their mother, Kate, sets the record straight, ending the demands with the best F-bomb in any movie this year. Dave finds out from Kate, and from the nice lady who runs the newspaper in Hawthorne, Peg Nagy (Angela McEwan of “Mad Lane”) that his father is a better man than he thought.

During all this time, Woody says very little. As Aunt Martha notes, the Grant boys don't talk much. Woody's actions speak louder than his words, and the people of Hawthorne reveal a lot more about him in a couple of days than Woody has revealed about himself in years.

The movie has an unexpected ending, and one more trip back through Hawthorne. This film has some priceless scenes of conversations that are both funny, and realistic. This is some of the best dialog of any movie I've seen this year. It also has a great performances by Dern and Forte, as well as a powerful supporting performance by June Squibb, who makes the most of a career-defining role. This film rates a B+.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in digital formats, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2013 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)