LEAVE NO TRACE — Review by Susan Wloszczyna

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The very idea of going off the grid sounds mighty appealing right about now. No cable news. No digital gadgets. No concerns about the future save for surviving day by day by using your own wits. Leave No Trace presents a truth-based back-to-nature utopia of sorts shared by Will, a military vet dad who has been left traumatized by his years of service, and Tom, his precociously perceptive teen daughter. Their tight bond as they live off the land in a nature reserve outside of Portland has echoes Shakespeare’s The Tempest and Thoreau’s Walden, yet feels like it is just the relief we need from our tumultuous times. Continue reading…

When their forest hideaway is discovered by park officials, instead of being punished or separated, they are treated with the utmost respect, concern and kindness by complete strangers. It is a far cry from director and co-writer Debra Granik’s last narrative feature, 2010’s Winter’s Bone, a harrowing family drama set in the impoverished backwoods of the Ozarks and populated by disreputable meth addicts that was nominated for four Oscars. What I most appreciate about Granik’s approach is how she eschews exposition and trusts her leads – in this case, a terrific Ben Foster in a rare contemplative role, and knock-out New Zealand newcomer Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie – to allow moviegoers to fill in their backstory blanks just by watching them interact.

There is no better example of the skill of all involved than a scene where Will must undergo a psychiatric evaluation by answering countless questions with either true or false. After the social worker administering the test realizes he is overwhelmed by the experience, he simply asks Will, “Are you proud of your daughter?” Somehow, Foster manages to physically release all that his character feels about his child while drawing tears from those in the audience by barely saying a word. Leave No Trace will definitely leave a lasting impression long after its end credits roll.

motw logo 1-35EDITOR’S NOTE: Leave No Trace is AWFJ’s Movie of the Week.

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Susan Wloszczyna

In her nearly 30 years at USA Today, Susan Wloszczyna interviewed everyone from Vincent Price and Shirley Temple to Julia Roberts and Will Smith. Her coverage specialties include animation, musicals, comedies and any film starring Hayley Mills, Sandy Dennis or hobbits. Her crowning career achievements so far, besides having Terence Stamp place his bare feet in her lap during an interview for The Limey, is convincing the paper to send her to New Zealand twice for set visits, once for The Return of the King and the other for The Chronicles of Narnia and King Kong, and getting to be a zombie extra and interview George Romero in makeup on the set for Land of the Dead. Though not impressive enough for Pulitzer consideration, she also can be blamed for coining the moniker "Frat Pack," often used to describe the comedy clique that includes Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn and Will Ferrell. Her positions have included Life section copy desk chief for four years and a film reviewer for 12 years. She is currently a contributor for the online awards site Gold Derby and is an Oscar expert for RogerEbert.com. Previously, she has been a freelance film reporter and critic, contributing regularly to RogerEbert.com, MPAA’s The Credits, the Washington Post, AARP The Magazine online and Indiewire as well as being a book reviewer for The Buffalo News. She previously worked as a feature editor at the Niagara Gazette in Niagara Falls, N.Y. A Buffalo native, she earned her bachelor's degree in English at Canisius College and a master's degree in journalism from Syracuse University.