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.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Leave No Trace is AWFJ’s Movie of the Week.