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Leave No Trace
A father and his 13 year-old daughter are living in a paradisiacal existence in a vast urban park in Portland Oregon when a small mistake derails their lives forever.
|Studio :||Bron Studios, Harrison Productions, First Look Media,|
|Crew :||Art Direction, Production Design,|
|Cast :||Ben Foster Ayanna Berkshire Dale Dickey Jeff Kober Thomasin McKenzie|
Wow! Such a good movie.
Excellent but underrated film
A great movie, one of the best of this year. There was a bit of confusion at one point in the plot, but nothing serious.
A terrific literary drama and character piece that shows how the process of creating art can be seen differently by those doing it and those looking at it from the outside.
Low-key, minimalist and unpretentious, this film does not angle for formulaic storytelling. What it does instead is portray a former U.S. military service member's close relationship with his teenage daughter and his choice to raise her away from modern society. A true survivalist, the father teaches her how to get by on her own in the wilderness in the Pacific Northwest. They live together in a national park in Oregon when their lives are upended upon being discovered by law enforcement.Ben Foster is quietly powerful as the father and newcomer Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie is equally amazing and sympathetic as his teenage daughter. The two play off each other flawlessly and the father-daughter relationship that soon starts to fray is wonderfully brought to life. The narrative of this film can sometimes seem very slight but as with other films, that doesn't always take away from a film's achievement. It certainly doesn't here. In some respects, the slow pacing makes the turns of events all the more magnified.With a conclusion that makes me more emotional the more I think about it, this film is worthy of respect and recognition. It conveys the delicate balance of one's relationship with a parent as one comes of age. It does not pretend to have any clear answers. But nor does it try to judge the two people whose lives are depicted here. A deeply affecting tale like this doesn't come around that often. Strongly recommended.
GRADE: B THIS FILM IS RECOMMENDED.IN BRIEF: Two excellent performances elevate a fine film that diffuses its storytelling with nice atmospheric visuals but too few words.JIM'S REVIEW: Leave No Trace is a heartfelt story about a destitute father and his loyal daughter. This independent film is told straightforwardly and its theme is current. Will (Ben Foster) Is a war veteran suffering from post traumatic stress disorder, and wanting no help at all. His loving daughter, Tom (Thomasin McKenzie), is homeless, unknowingly suffering as well, due to her father's on-going illness. They survive daily together, in the wilderness of a national park in their makeshift campsite, avoiding any human contact or interference and living their lives under nature's glory.When they are indeed discovered by authorities and placed in the welfare system, both and Tom react in differ ways. Will has adjustment issues dealing with this new physical world and its limitations of personal freedom while his daughter conforms to all of the conveniences of this unknown modern world. As Tom ventures out to meet other caring people and gain new worldly experiences, she senses awe and wonderment with a thirst for knowledge. This begins to complicate her life as her father grows more unwilling to accept change. (In this case, the movie follows a similar plot-line with another fine independent film, Matt Ross' 2016 Captain Fantastic.)Leave No Trace is directed and co-written by Debra Granik (Winter's Bone) with assured skill. The director is in familiar impoverished rural territory with her characters and settings. Much of the film relies on compelling visuals and the nuanced performances of the two leads to successfully convey its storytelling. Yet one wishes her screenplay (along with screenwriter Anne Rosellini) would have also stated its message with more expressive words. Dialog is strong but minimal and adding further conversational dialog would have given the film more impact about this important subject while highlighting their familial conflict rather than implying the sudden rift between parent and child.The story's narrative structure actually depicts two caring people trapped in the political red tape of social services and governmental bureaucracy. Yet the film avoids condemning or delving into the insensitivity of the system. Instead, the director focuses on the human drama. On this level, the film resonates. (Actually, the repeated charity and kindness of strangers seemed oddly out of touch with reality to this reviewer. That no one, besides workers assigned to this case, reacted negatively to this child's welfare is the film's chief flaw.)As written, one never questions their love. Immediately, moviegoers may disagree with his parental decision-making, but understand the immense mental toll and confusion that prevents Will from changing their condition. What is best for the child weighs heavily throughout the film. Ultimately, it is the acting by these two actors which create such a convincing bond. Their understated portrayals become the essence of the film. Making an impressive film debut is Ms. McKenzie as Tom and this teenage actress is wonderful in the role. Her performance is quiet yet devastating in its complexity. Ben Foster as her dad gives his well drawn character an underlying sadness while providing strength in his father figure role. Their interactions together are subtle and quite moving. Strong support also comes from Dale Dickey, Dana Millican, and Jeff Kober in minor roles.Leave No Trace takes its relevant subject and exposes the human side of the issue. Ms. Granik's film creates a mostly realistic and extremely touching tale about a man at war with himself and his daughter trying to escape the sins of the father without wounding herself in the emotional crossfire.
At some point you can't keep the audience in the dark for the entire movie. While most movies have a beginning, middle, and end, it seemed this had a beginning, beginning and beginning. It just never really picked up. I'm shocked IMDB and rotten tomatoes had such a positive rating on this. I appreciated the cinematography and acting, but towards the end i was hoping for the movie to finally end.
Based on the novel "My Abandonment" by Peter Rock and adapted from a screenplay by Granik and Anne Rosellini, Debra Granik's Leave No Trace is the story of Will (Ben Foster, "Hostiles"), a troubled army veteran suffering from PTSD who lives with his teenage daughter Tom (Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie, "The Changeover") in a camp they built themselves in the woods near Portland, Oregon. Like Granik's 2010 film "Winter's Bone" that chronicled the lives of people living on the margins in the rural Ozarks of Missouri, Leave No Trace is an uncompromising look at a non-conforming father and his young daughter living off the grid, doing their best to survive in a society they do not understand or wish to be a part of. Opening in a heavily forested area in a large public park, cinematographer Michael McDonough ("Sunset Song") creates a mood of isolation far removed from the world of television, computers, and smart phones. Will and daughter Tom, remarkably performed by newcomer McKenzie, chop wood, play chess, cook their own meals, and train themselves to avoid being detected. There are no flashbacks and little backstory and it is left to us to guess how long they have lived there, what Will's military trauma was like, or what happened to Tom's mother. What is certain, however, is that they are not on a summer vacation. When they go into the city for groceries, the sudden contrast between the forest and the shrieking sounds of city life is instantly jarring. Buying groceries, however, is not all Will has come for. Visiting the VA hospital, he picks up prescriptions for painkillers which he sells for cash to hangers on living on the outskirts of the park. It is his only means of support. His independent way of life is threatened, however, when Tom is inadvertently seen by a passing jogger who alerts the authorities and they are forced out of hiding by the police and their sniffing dogs. Separated, Tom is sent to a detention center for young girls, while Will must take a series of psychological tests where he has to confront thoughts and feelings that he had long suppressed. Before being torn apart, Will reassures his daughter that "we can still have our own thoughts," but it is unconvincing.Though they are being "processed" and are in effect beholden to the system, Granik avoids the kind of scapegoating depicted in films such as the recent "I, Daniel Blake," which shows all government workers as ogres. Here they are real people who treat Will and Tom with respect and a grudging admiration. Father and daughter are eventually reunited on a farm where Will helps the owner Mr. Walters (Jeff Kober, "Sully") harvest Christmas trees. As they settle into their new environment, Tom learns how to ride a bike, Dale (Dale Dickey, "Hell or High Water"), a local woman, shows her how to approach a bee hive safely, they attend a church service, and Tom meets a young boy (Isaiah Stone, "American Honey") who invites her to a 4-H meeting where they are taught to train rabbits. Though she is beginning to like it, Will is becoming increasingly uncomfortable with living in a community that requires him to give of himself to others. Still disturbed by night terrors, the look on his face suggests that he is just biding his time until he can return to the woods. Fueled by the atmospheric original score of Dickon Hinchliffe ("Little Men"), Leave No Trace unfolds without manipulation or sentimentality. Unlike last year's "Captain Fantastic" which romanticized living outside of "the system," it is less of a statement about freedom from a system that one deems oppressive than about a man who has found a way to cope but is psychologically closed off from others, unable or unwilling to engage in the demands of accepted social interaction. The film does not exploit its characters or engage in "us against the world" messaging but reveals its inner truths with restraint and authenticity. Rather than showing the effects of a society in freefall, Granik makes us aware that there is still kindness left in the world. Though we can empathize with Will and Tom, we know too well that the universe is governed by impermanence and that eventually we all will have to let go of our attachments. To quote philosopher Henri Bergson, "To exist is to change, to change is to mature, to mature is to go on creating oneself endlessly." Leave No Trace is not only a film about survival but also about the power of self creation.