Leave No Trace – Film Review by Frank L
Director: Debra Granik
Writers Debra Granik, Peter Rock (novel)
Stars: Thomasin McKenzie, Ben Foster, Jeffery Rifflard
Will (Ben Foster) is a veteran of the armed services which has left him with internal mental scars. He lives with his fourteen year old daughter Tom (Thomasin McKenzie) in a dense forest in Oregon on publicly owned land – to do so is unlawful. Will and Tom make occasional sorties to the local town for necessary supplies but Will’s wily stratagems keep them from coming to the notice of the authorities. Unfortunately, one day inevitably their cover is blown which results in them being absorbed into the care of social services. Two different worlds then encounter gently enough with each other. Although Tom’s upbringing is unconventional, Will has taught her to read and write to a high standard. The authorities cannot however permit the unorthodox and illegal mode of life to continue so Will and Tom are hemmed into a world of living with a roof in a suitable but dull dwelling. The story follows the stresses and strains they encounter in trying to adapt to this conventional world which alters the dynamic between Will (who cannot adjust) and Tom who is open to adjustment. She encounters new worlds such as looking after tame rabbits and the complexities of bee keeping. Her interest is piqued, Will’s is not. It is the past from which he has fled.
McKenzie’s performance would be breathtaking at any stage of her career but it is, as a debut performance, outstanding. You are at all times entranced by her when she is part of life in the lush forest but even more so when she encounters the strange complexities of settled life. Her awareness that her reactions, as she assimilates some of the features of the settled world, is different to Tom’s is subtly and gently portrayed. Similarly the damaged Will is, in many ways, an exemplar of a caring, loving, middle-aged father but he is fractured because of his experiences as a service man. The love and care which he shows for his daughter is admirable but he has not factored into his life and her life that she is on the verge of becoming an adult so inevitably there has to be changes. Foster captures Will’s complexities in a performance of controlled authority. The two of them together generate a vulnerable and fragile world.
The cinematography particularly at the beginning when Will and Tom are living in the overwhelmingly green, moss covered forest with the breezes rustling overhead in the leaves of the enormous tall trees, is lavish. In the very different settled world which Tom and Will enter the cinematography portrays the off-beat alternative individuals and their habitats which Tom and Will encounter with a fine sensibility.
The entire world of Tom and Will moving from a solitary existence into a society with more variables and the resultant pressures it brings to bear on them is a joy to encounter.