Chloe Zhao is a hot commodity in Hollywood these days, so much that she got offered to do a big-budget Marvel movie. But before she hit the big time directing an MCU film, she did low-budget indies, such as Songs My Brothers Taught Me and The Rider. Just like her previous films, Nomadland is a semi-documentary semi-narrative film. It has a scripted plot, but other parts of the film are like a documentary.
Frances McDormand is one of the best actresses of her era. She has won two Academy Awards, for Fargo and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. This time out, she plays Fern, a woman who got laid off from her job in Empire, Nevada when the plant she was working at closed its doors and the town died. She was forced to leave and live out of her van, moving from town to town and state to state. She would occasionally work for Amazon, but that work was only seasonal.
Fern is forced to move around a lot, and in doing so, she meets a lot of new people. A woman she befriends tells her about a nomad community in Arizona. She goes there for a while. She likes her privacy and alone time, so she doesn’t stay anywhere for very long. This allows the viewers of the film to get the difficulties of her lifestyle. It’s not an easy one by any stress of the imagination.
Joshua James Richards is a frequent collaborator of Zhao. He is the cinematographer of her previous films. When you have a great working relationship with people, you keep working with them. All the great directors do this. Richards captured so many beautiful vistas all over the west. This film took place in the winter months, so snow-capped mountains and plains littered the scenery throughout the film. His style lent itself perfectly to all the traveling that went on in the film.
The United States had a recession a decade or so ago. A lot of people lost their homes and lives along the way. This time has been a tough time for many Americans. Nomadland focuses on an entire community of people who have struggled and settled into this life. This film sheds light on this community. Like her other films, Zhao turns her cameras toward the little known subject matter. These types of stories are far and in between. It’s nice to see these different kinds of films.
With a phenomenal performance by McDormand to anchor this film, Zhao has her story and runs with it. The great cinematography brings those watching this dramatic masterpiece to life. You feel like you are part of the scenery which is a character in the film in and of itself. This film is one of the best films of the year by far. It has a fascinating subject matter people can relate to even though it could be at an arm’s length away. There will be many awards nominations and probably some wins as well in Nomadland‘s future.
McDormand has a lot of moments by herself in the film. The subtle things she does are what helps elevate her performance. In her other big roles, she uses the dialogue to help get across her characters nature, but here, she does something different. The subtlety in the acting goes a long way to show what’s great about her acting. That why this film works so much.
Dan Skip Allen
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