Quick Hit: Slow moving and small, but with a big world view.
Often times when you watch a movie about a man and his daughter, it’s often with the father as the protector, sometimes in an apolcyptic world. Other movies focus in on the hurt that the father has done in the daughter’s life, and how she grows despite him. Very few movies walk such a delicate line as the terrific Leave No Trace, a movie with small stakes, but large ideas.
Leave No Trace follows father Will (Ben Foster) as he attempts to live a life off the grid with his daughter Tom (Thomasin McKenzie). The opening shots in the film tell a story of hard work, sure, but also of a loving bond that has formed between two people that depend on each other. There are almost no words, and when this world does get broken up, it’s painful both for Tom and Will and the audience. They are thrust into our culture, a world full of light, sound, and jobs. It’s all with well-meaning intentions – people are looking out for Tom, which most people would do when they see a small child living in the woods – but is it doing more harm than good?
One of the things that I loved most about this film is that no one is the bad guy, explicitly anyway. Everyone really does have the best intentions for the father/daughter pair. They just want them to fit into a box that not everyone fits into – some people need a bit more room to stretch their wings. As the film goes on, we meet some other people that are similar in mold. An RV community that gathers at night to sing and an ex-military doctor who treats patients for little more than good words and promises all make appearances. And throughout, we’re watching the relationship between Will and Tom evolve, as Will struggles with his own demons (PTSD from an unnamed military conflict) and Tom struggles with growing up and finding her place in a world she is desperate to know more of, but still with her father.
Both the leads are fantastic. I’ve enjoyed watching Foster in different pieces through the years, nothing more than his spellbinding turn in Hell or High Water. While I still love that performance (it’s much more showy), his quiet turn as Will is just a good a showcase for his talent. But I can’t help but be astounded by the acting young McKenzie puts on display. There is no doubt in her performance, and there’s also no begging for attention. She simply is, filling the screen with her innocence and her quiet grace. It’s an amazing performance that should have gotten more love than it did.
There’s some threads that run through this movie that are similar to a movie we watched two award seasons ago – Captain Fantastic. But whereas one allows both the main character and the children to get on their grandstands every once in a while, this one never does that. It simply lets people be. It’s great work from Debra Granik, and I’d highly advise people to check it out. I’m giving it an “A”.
For more on this film, check out IMDB.
"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"