Alexander Payne has a track record of using grand landscapes for his esoteric tales of flawed American characters and family estrangements.
‘Sideways’ starred the verdant vineyards of California, while 2011’s Oscar-nominated ‘The Descendents’ saw George Clooney battle with the lush volcanic slopes of Hawaii for screentime.
In this year’s ‘Nebraska’ Payne returns to the endless roads and dusty plains of the state he first visited in ‘About Schmidt’ (2002) - when Jack Nicholson set off on a journey to stop his daughter’s nuptials.
This time the great Midwest is shot in stunning black and white, adding a wintry lyricism to the story of another, very different, road trip.
It sees troubled father and son Woody and David set out on an ill-fated journey to claim a junk mail lottery jackpot - a prize the increasingly infirm Woody insists is genuine.
On the way there’s an impromptu family reunion and, when news of the apparent ‘lottery win’ gets around, the vultures begin to circle.
It’s a story which avoids sentimentality in the same way most of the family avoid intimacy - a delicate portrait of family life and how disappointment and paucity of ambition can both drive people apart and force them together.
At it’s heart is a remarkable performance by Bruce Dern, who manages to remain sympathetic despite his aggressive and uncaring exterior.
It’s a beautiful film, and Payne’s finest to date.