“Leave No Trace” is one of those rare films that is brave enough to allow truth to be spoken in silence. Director Debra Granik (best known for “Winter’s Bone”) uses beautiful photography, extraordinary acting and a subtle script to deliver a story about a daughter and a father living on the fringes of American society with compassionate realism.
Based on the novel “My Abandonment” which was itself based on a true story, it tells the story of a thirteen-year-old girl and her father who are found to have been living off-the-grid for some time in Forest Park, Oregon.
The movie starts by showing how efficiently and easily daughter and father work together to live in the forest with only basic tools, minimal shelter and with most of their food harvested from the forest. The bond between them is clear. She is intelligent, resilient and happy. He is caring and competent but somehow not quite right.
When they are discovered by the authorities, things change. They both have to adapt to new circumstances. She becomes aware of other ways of living and then comes to the understanding that these ways of living are not open to her father in the same way. He suffers from PTSD as a result of his military service and struggles when he has to deal with people, especially people in authority.
Told from the daughter’s point of view. the story focus on her struggle to understand what is happening and what she wants to do.
The bond she has with her father is deep but, as she at one point blurts out in frustration: “Whatever is wrong with you. It isn’t wrong with me”.
Thomasin McKenzie’s performance as the daughter is fresh, nuanced, skilful and compulsively engaging. It reminded me of the power Jennifer Lawrence brought to “Winter’s Bone”.
Ben Foster’s performance as the father is a triumph. Avoiding the usual clichés, he manages to be both strong and vulnerable, showing us a troubled man who knows his limits but is fighting against them to be what his daughter needs him to be.
I recommend that you seek “Leave No Trace” out and let yourself feel its power and humanity. This is movie making at its best.
Watch the trailer below if you’re still not convinced.