This crisp 108 minute film follows Fern (Frances McDormand) as she seeks work, while having no fixed address. Whether a human robot in an Amazon shipping center or tenuously employed in far less organized circumstances, Fern is only a few half steps from being completely wiped out.

But as she moves from the ghost town of a one-industry economy, Fern encounters a welcoming tribe of similar nomads. Camping mostly on Federal land, which has few restrictions, the tribe has evolved into a self-sufficient community.

Director Chloé Zhao (SONGS MY BROTHERS TAUGHT ME, THE RIDER) brings authenticity to her third film with real nomads Linda May, Swankie and Bob Wells as Fern’s new found friends. Fern moves across the American West as the seasons change, and she confronts myriad challenges. Director of Photography Joshua James Richards paints a remarkable picture of stark beauty in Nebraska and South Dakota.

Fern grows close to the always excellent David Strathairn (GOOD NIGHT, AND GOOD LUCK, LINCOLN), and the pair interact well on screen. McDormand has proven herself versatile in a treasure trove of films (FARGO, OLIVE KITTERIDGE, THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI to name a few), and here she embraces the poverty and nobility of Fern in equal measure.

In 2017, McDormand and Peter Spears (CALL ME BY YOUR NAME) optioned  the rights to the non-fiction book Nomadland: Surviving America in the 21st Century by Brooklyn-based writer Jessica Bruder. They gathered several other producers and found director Zhao after seeing THE RIDER. Zhao has indicated that McDormand had significant input in front of and behind the camera.

Italian composer Ludovico Einaudi provides superb musical accompaniment, never intrusive but always evocative.

The film is a timely reminder of the growing gap between the ever-thinner upper crust (here completely invisible) and the increasingly numerous people living hand to mouth. Trickle down economics is never mentioned, but its failure is evident in every frame.

Trailer available here.

Brad Auerbach has been a journalist and editor covering the media, entertainment, travel and technology scene for many years. He has written for Forbes, Time Out London, SPIN, Village Voice, LA Weekly and early in his career won a New York State College Journalism Award.