Plot – A father and his thirteen-year-old daughter are living an ideal existence in a vast urban park in Portland, Oregon when a small mistake derails their lives forever – Leave No Trace.
Director – Debra Granik
Genre – Drama
Released – 2018
Adapted from Peter Rock’s novel My Abandonment, Debra Granik’s Leave No Trace is a touching story about Will (Foster), a troubled army veteran and his daughter Tom (McKenzie), living off the grid in the woods near Portland. Much like Granik’s 2010 film Winter’s Bone, we once again delve into the lives of people living on the margins of society. This time focusing on those who would prefer to live amongst nature as a way of escaping their demons.
Granik doesn’t do over-the-top melodrama, her filmmaking is quiet, reflective and authentic, treating her characters like documentary subjects and the locations as a beautiful backdrop to their lives. As for conflict, Leave No Trace doesn’t present Will and Tom with a villain that needs defeating, instead the difficulties that they face result from their own actions and Will’s desire to live a life outside of society and his struggle with PTSD or Toms appetite to forge her own path. This mild-mannered approach and steady pace may turn some viewers off, but I found it perfectly suited the movie’s tone and gave these talented actors greater opportunity to convey the character’s diverse emotions.
They provide McKenzie with an easier character or portray. Tom, a curious blend of serenity, angst, curiosity and empathy. Because of this, you find her character the easier to connect with. Foster, however, has the more arduous task as a war veteran shaken by what he has experienced but also trying to do his best for his daughter. Non-emotive and unable to change his ways, we could easily see this character in an unsympathetic light, but Foster does an admirable job of making Will a troubled soul that you can’t help but like.
Overall, Leave No Trace is a subdued emotion-filled surprise that you will either love or hate. This is Granik’s power as a filmmaker, delivering a film that you will either turn off halfway through or leave you in tears, there’s no middle ground. For me, it was the latter.