So what we have here is a beautifully-photographed movie – in black and white – with a wonderfully-underwritten performance at its center – telling a story of ordinary days filled with ordinary people who do ordinary things. It seems to be both a metaphor for life – and life itself. This is the tale of Woody (Dern), an old man who has taken what life had to offer, without explanation or complaint. He’s never expected much, never needed much; he’s had what he’s had, done what he’s had to do, had more than a few beers along the way. He could have been my father – or yours. But now he’s received a letter from the Cornhusker Marketing Association in Lincoln, Nebraska telling him that, if he responds by next Monday and if his numbers match the winning numbers and if he buys some magazines, he may have won a million dollars.
As the film opens, he’s walking from Billings, Montana to Lincoln to collect what he believes are his winnings. Bruce Dern fills his performance with profoundly touching moments; his Woody says little because he feels he has little to say, that he’s never done anything important enough to talk about. He’s a man who’s watched his dreams die along the way, but has held on to one belief: he believes that people are fair; that he’s won a million dollars. But he knows – even expects – people to disappoint him. This is Academy Award winning work. And Phaedon Papamichael’s cinematography is elegantly simple and simply elegant. The movie is slow in parts, with scenes that linger too long and some actors who are unprofessional and unconvincing. But, on balance, it’s a truthfully terrific film.