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Leave No Trace – Movie Review

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Leave No Trace – Movie Review

Rating: B+ (Very Good)

Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy Elevation Pictures

In Winter’s Bone, Debra Granik portrayed a dreary and dark depiction of people living out in the woods. With Leave No Trace, she stays in the forest, but this relies mostly on a touching bond between a father and a daughter. While not without its conflicts, there is a gentleness here with two people reaching an understanding in their philosophies in how to cope with the difficulties of life. As helped by two excellent lead performances, the story moves at a leisurely and relaxing pace as the audience takes this journey with them. This marks the third film in as many summers involving a parental figure living in the wilderness with their offspring, after Captain Fantastic and The Glass Castle, but this is by far the best one.

Unlike the aforementioned works, Leave No Trace is not about toxic parenting. The relationship between Ben Foster’s PTSD stricken Will and Thomasin McKenzie’s Tom is one of mutual understanding and genuine father-daughter love. Will never tries to impose bad life lessons onto his daughter and Tom also respects what he has to deal with. This is a movie where characters have discussions meant to help each other, rather than constantly arguing and fighting. Granik directs the film with a calming quality and the quietness of the piece is greatly appreciated. This is a movie where fists are rarely raised and when somebody is having trouble, there is always someone else around to lend a hand.

Granik and her co-writer Anne Rosellini don’t want to see Will and Tom in danger and the conflicts end up being more internal than anything majorly serious happening to them. Leave No Trace is more about two people trying to adapt to new environments and those who help them along the way. The social workers who want to put them into normal society could have been written as malicious, but they are sweet people who only have Will and Tom’s best interests at heart. There is a positive streak that runs throughout Leave No Trace and we need more films like this over ones that instead seek to highlight the world’s ills.

Both Foster and McKenzie play the leads as appropriately quiet and introverted. McKenzie, in particular, gives a performance that should hopefully lead to many more worthy roles in the future. Like Foster, her performance is largely internal as she tries to make sense of the various locations she ends up in. Tom isn’t written like your standard teenager and McKenzie knows how to portray her, accordingly. The sound team also adds to the soothing feel of Leave No Trace, while director of photography Michael McDonagh envelops us in the environments featured in the film. So many people wait until home video or streaming to watch a small independent film, but this is one absolutely worth seeing in the theatre.

Despite its subject matter and the internal conflicts that its protagonists encounter, Leave No Trace wants them to feel comfortable. As a result, we feel comfortable. While some might find the pacing a little slow at points, it’s rather fitting for this movie. It has been eight years since Granik’s last narrative film and while they both share a kinship, Leave No Trace also works as the polar opposite to Winter’s Bone. This ultimately becomes a father-daughter story where the pair do get along and that’s refreshing. It’s just nice to see a film where good people are trying their best to find their proper place in the world and there are those who want them to succeed.


Stefan Ellison

Stefan Ellison