Bruce Dern and the Saturday Night Live cast member Will Forte – each of whose performances previously tended towards the wild-eyed – give equally restrained but deeply moving performances as a father and son who overcome their emotional estrangement during a quixotic road trip through the American Midwest.
It is a funny film, but when ranked alongside Alexander Payne's previous road movies, it is tonally more similar to About Schmidt than Sideways. There is a wonderful economy of expression to his movie-making here, and a lyrical terseness to the script.
Like Dern's character Woody Grant, the film says just what it means to and no more. And at its start, the flat Nebraskan countryside would seem to reflect the characters' featureless inner lives.
But in the same way that the black-and-white cinematography beautifies without romanticising the economically depressed landscape, so Payne brings a clear-sighted compassion to his treatment of characters who are usually either sentimentalised or mocked.
In fact, it is the best film yet by one of US cinema's most perceptive and sympathetic observers of human behaviour.