Retrospective Review: Leave No Trace

By Kristy Strouse

Debra Granik is an expert in creating stories with a naturalistic sense and giving us characters that are vulnerable, and organic. “Leave No Trace” (2018) is no exception.  Will (Ben Foster) and his thirteen-year-old daughter Tom (Thomasin Mckenzie) live alone in a remote part of the woods. There they’ve survived, without technology or material things, and he’s taught her the skills needed to make it away from the world. Will desperately does not want to be found and the two practice drills to ensure Tom is ready if something happens. Is it for the best? The film tackles the familial impact in a new and gradually compelling way.

Things seem to be going well until Tom is accidentally seen by a hiker, and the life they have built begins to slip away. Social workers come in, and they’re reintegrated into the world and given a home to stay in and a job for Will. Seems promising, right? As Tom begins integrating into a more normal situation she begins to flourish, but Will is having trouble adjusting. A veteran, suffering from PTSD and nightmares, Will tries to fit in for Tom’s sake, but it’s not too long before he’s trying to get them out again.

 

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Tom: Everything’s different now.
Will: We can still think our own thoughts.

 

Thomasin Mckenzie captures this character with a confidence that’s perfectly executed. It is easy to forget, while watching, that these are two actors playing father and daughter, because their rapport is seamless.

Foster gives a very restrained performance in the best possible way. His character is hurting, and it’s clear in every breath he takes, but he’s also very quiet, internalized. The movie itself is very subtle and tenuous and it is better for it. These are human characters, and it’s nearly impossible not to feel alongside them.

Despite how Will has raised Tom she’s an intelligent girl and their relationship is a sincere, if not unconventional one. Thomasin Mckenzie captures this character with a confidence that’s perfectly executed. It is easy to forget while watching, that these are two actors playing father and daughter, because their rapport is seamless. It may be Foster’s best performance, and considering his assortment of roles over the years, that’s saying something. Meanwhile, Mckenzie is unquestionably a star.

 

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Thomasin McKenzie

 

Granik is skilled in her detail, ensuring each shot and movement is purposeful. Her ability to choose the perfect settings for her projects continues here. The lush forests are portrayed in a way that’s beautiful as much as it illuminates their treacherous potential. Throughout the course of “Leave No Tracecharacters” we’re given the story gracefully with an extremely keen appreciation for the characters and their plights.

It’s a real shame the Academy didn’t celebrate this film because it is easily one of the best of 2018. “Leave No Trace” will undoubtedly leave many impressions, as it is a beautiful and expertly made film that shouldn’t be overlooked.

Debra Granik and Anne Rosellini adapt Peter Rock‘s novel, alongside him, for a powerful story of love, home, and hope, but also sacrifice and perseverance. These character’s and their particular paths may begin to diverge, but there’s an undeniable tether that’s hard to break.  Each of their journeys is necessary.

 

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Debra Granik along with Ben Foster and Thomasin Mckenzie

 

“Leave No Trace” is an effectively moving film that is as emotional as it is resonating. A lot of similar themes explored in her other films are here too, showing poverty and the effects of PTSD, though in this film it also touches on the pressures of society, as well as homelessness. This is a movie that is comfortable in being itself while thwarting expectations of what a story should be. It is entirely it’s own in every way.

It’s a real shame the Academy didn’t celebrate this film because it is easily one of the best of 2018. “Leave No Trace” will undoubtedly leave many impressions, as it is a beautiful and expertly made film that shouldn’t be overlooked. Invest because of the performances, stay because of the affecting delivery.

Rating: 4 Out of 5 Stars

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