Leave No Trace: An Emotionally Powerful Film

Ben Foster and Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie appear in Leave No Trace, an official selection of the Premieres program at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute. Photo by Scott Green.

Debra Granik’s third narrative feature, Leave No Trace, is a emotionally powerful film with a breakout performance from actress Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie.

We first meet Will (Ben Foster) and his teenage daughter, Tom (Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie) in their fourth year of living in Forest Park on the outskirts of Portland, Oregon.  It’s illegal to live in public land but the two of them have gotten away with living in the woods for so long.  It’s not until long before Tom gets noticed by someone walking in the woods.  This leads to the cops discovering them shortly thereafter.

The two of them are relocated to an actual house in a community where they have to work.  Yes, they have the isolation factor that military veteran Will so desperately desires.  Still, it’s not the true isolation that Will wants to have.  As such, it’s not before long in which the two of them are on the run again.  This time to the state of Washington.

It’s not without its own mishaps but after Will gets a life-threatening injury but they land in a new community.  It’s one that Tom finds herself feeling welcome and wants to stay.  She’s made friends here in the form of a mentor, Dale (Dale Dickey), much to the dismay of her dad.  Will has his own wants and needs.  Is it because of the PTSD that comes from serving in the military?  Hard to say.  One of those is that he simply doesn’t want to be a member of any community.  As for Tom, she has conflicting desires and wants to live in a community.  It truly hurts to see Will go off and leave his daughter behind.

Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie breaks out in her role as Will’s (Ben Foster) daughter, Tom.  She’s younger than Jennifer Lawrence was at the point in her career when she took on her Oscar-nominated performance in Winter’s BoneMcKenzie gives a performance that is just as emotionally powerful in its delivery.  There’s no reason to believe that McKenzie won’t have a bright future ahead of her.  There’s something about Granik’s direction of narrative features that are able to draw out some of the best talent in young actresses through powerful performances.  Granik does so this time by penning a script adaptation of Peter Rock’s novel, My Abandonment, with writing partner Anne Rosellini.

Leave No Trace may be a very different story than 2010’s Winter’s Bone but the two films are very similar on a thematic level.  They both have emotionally powerful moments with breakout performances from their leading actress.  The film is a survival tale so to speak with no real villain other than the conflict between father and daughter.

DIRECTOR:  Debra Granik
SCREENWRITER:  Debra Granik and Anne Rosellini
CAST:  Ben Foster, Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie, Jeff Kober, Dale Dickey

Following the world premiere at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival, Bleecker Street released Leave No Trace in select theaters on June 29, 2018 with a theatrical expansion to follow

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.

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