Leave No Trace
Blu-ray + Digital
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Will (Ben Foster) and his teenage daughter, Tom (Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie), have lived off the grid for years in the forests of Portland, Oregon. When their idyllic life is shattered, both are put into social services. After clashing with their new surroundings, Will and Tom set off on a harrowing journey back to their wild homeland. From the director of Academy Award- nominated Winter's Bone, critics are hailing this film as "powerful from start to finish" (Los Angeles Times).
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It is a wonderfully fresh and well done movie. The close ups of the young daughter's eyes searching for unknowable answers or the father's futile and desperate hand curling around his scalp as if to ward off the world are incredibly touching. Dialogue is sparse because the camera and actors make it unnecessary. It is so good to see a movie use its art not just to tell a story and titillate but to move you...make you think and probe the human condition. How the director achieved all of this with such grace and beauty is remarkable.
Another reviewer has too many questions to enjoy the movie: what put the father into this condition, where does the money come from, and many more. As someone who can handle himself fairly well in the outdoors and who is also a Vet, I asked myself some of those same questions as I watched the movie and found that not only did they not matter, but they added to the truth of the situation. It does not matter HOW the father got to this point, like so many others whose stories we don't know, he's there. The story is not about his life, it is of how the daughter continues hers. Her struggle with the fact that she cannot help her dad and she can no longer share his life; learning that loving helplessly, is still love.
There are too many movies of people in war already, this one is about its human consequences. I've known communities like those shown in the movie, some not as benign. They exist; these people DO exist. The movie offers no answers, only gentle understanding and compassion. Perhaps those are the same qualities the daughter ends up with, as well.
The film is thought-provoking: what makes someone want to live not just “off the grid,” but almost “invisibly” as the father does? This guy isn't even OK with living in a remote cabin with no utilities, an RV in the woods, or even a permanent campsite—that's pretty hardcore, choosing not just homelessness but civilization-ness. His willingness to put his daughter's well-being in danger made him pretty unlikeable, although I'm sure the filmmakers were trying to paint him in a sympathetic light.
Worth a watch, but keep your expectations in line.
Couple of comments: this is the long overdue return from writer-director Debra Granik, who some years ago brought the outstanding "Winter's Bone" (Granik did an under-the-radar documentary between these 2 movies). Here Granik looks at the impact of PTDS on an army veteran and his daughter. The veteran battles demons in his sleep, and restlessness when he's awake, causing them to move from part to park. This is a plot-heavy movie, so I really don't want to say much more than that. Just watch. Ben Foster brings an accomplished performance as Will. But the show is really stolen by the astonishing (and breakout) performance by relative newcomer Thomasin McKenzie as Tom, the daughter who wants to support so badly. Surely this is just the beginning that we've seen of her, and I can't wait to see what she'll do next. Last but certainly not least, the movie's photography (in Oregon) is colorful and lush, just eye-candy. Please note that this movie is rated PG, but in my opinion should not be viewed by kids younger than, say, 12. Not because there is anything "wrong" in the movie, but I guarantee you that young kids will simply be bored. So PG rated, but not really a kids film.
"Leave No Trace" opened this weekend at my local art-house theater here in Cincinnati. The Saturday matinee screening where I saw this at was PACKED, I am very happy to report (the 95 degree weather nay have had something to do with that). "Leave No Trace" is one of those rare movies that is 100% certified fresh Rotten Tomatoes. Yes, it is that good! "Leave No Trace" is one of the best movies of the year, period (right up there with ""Lean On Pete" and "The Rider"). If you are in the mood for a wonderful character study of an army veteran with PTSD with his young daughter, I'd readily suggest you check this out, be it in the theater, on Amazon Instant Video, or eventually on DVD/Blu-ray, and draw your own conclusion/ For me, "Leave No Trace" is a WINNER all the way.