I didn’t expect to like this story about an elderly Montana man going to collect the million-dollar-prize he thought he’d won from Publishers’ Clearinghouse at all. His younger son, realizing his father won’t give up this Quixotic quest, decides to drive him to Lincoln Nebraska to pick up his prize. Along the way, he realizes he hadn’t really known his father at all.
The first half of this movie is very slow. It picks up a lot once the father and son arrive at the small Nebraska town the father grew up in. The view of this town is hard-headed but affectionate, without the condescension towards small-town America often found in Hollywood movies. Some of it is unexpectedly funny — the scene of Dern and his elderly brothers watching football saying hardly a word, though they haven’t seen each other in 30 years, is priceless.
The supporting cast, featuring mostly lesser-known actors, is very strong. Stacy Keach appears as Dern’s childhood friend, and Bob Odenkirk is surprisingly effective as Dern’s older son, who thinks both his father and his younger brother are just nuts. Bruce Dern does a fantastic job as a man who knows the end of his misspent life is near, and who is neither as stupid or demented as everyone thinks he is. He is, however, just perceptive enough to realize just how little others think of him — perhaps the real reason I found this movie is so oddly affecting and, ultimately, life-affirming.