Bruce Dern has been a character actor for over half a century yet hadn’t really gotten the acclaim he deserves. Perhaps it’s because he looked and sounded like the perfect villain. I remember seeing him guest star on reruns of the 1960s western “The Big Valley” several times and he always played the bad guy. The low point had to be when he shot John Wayne in the back in “The Cowboys.” A fine actor deserves to be remembered for something better.
The turnaround looked like it might happen in 1978 when he made “Coming Home” with Jane Fonda and John Voight, a movie about Vietnam and the effects it had on the soldiers. Dern played Fonda’s army officer husband who was shaken by his war experience after being gung-ho before he went. He wasn’t a heroic figure but he clearly was a sympathetic one. Still, Dern slipped off the radar afterwards despite receiving an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor.
Jump ahead about 35 years and Dern is suddenly in the news again. His latest film, “Nebraska,” has become a big hit and the actor has become a Best Actor nominee at the ripe old age of 77. Age has apparently mellowed his “bad guy” image and now he’s getting the recognition he probably should have gotten long ago.
“Nebraska” is a slow-paced but beautiful film about family and relationships. Dern’s character, Woody Grant, is congenial and slightly off his rocker. He has received one of those bogus notices in the mail stating he has won $1 million that sounds legit except for the fine print. He is so dead set on traveling from his home in Billings, Montana, to Lincoln, Nebraska, to collect his “winnings” that his son finally decides to drive him there.