Superb lead performances from Ben Foster and Thomasin McKenzie underpin Leave No Trace, the new film from Winter’s Bone director Debra Granik.
Based on a novel by Peter Rock, the story concerns father and daughter Will (Foster) and Tom (McKenzie), a war veteran and his thirteen-year old daughter who live off the grid, camping in the forest near Portland, Oregon. A small mistake leads to State intervention, and the pair are forced to relocate. As they try to adjust to their new lives, Will wants to disappear off the grid again, whilst Tom finds herself longing for the company of others.
This inevitably heart-breaking dilemma provides the heart of the film, but without histrionics and melodrama. Instead the plot moves gently through a series of subtle, nuanced vignettes that will put off impatient audiences but reward those who stick with it. Granik’s direction, aided by Michael McDonough’s cinematography, is rich, unhurried and atmospheric, and whilst this doesn’t have quite the punch of Winter’s Bone, it is a very fine piece of work nonetheless. One is occasionally reminded of films like Peter Weir’s The Mosquito Coast, Running on Empty, or more recently Captain Fantastic, but this also stands alone very well.
Ultimately, it is the quality of the two leads who really bring this to life. Thomasin McKenzie in particular is an absolute wonder, convincing absolutely and completely. Leave No Trace isn’t for those whose idea of a good night at the cinema is Dwayne Johnson jumping off skyscrapers, but fans of low-key, slow-burn, rewarding drama will find it satisfyingly poignant.
Simon Dillon, July 2018.