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Leave No Trace

By the director of Winter's Bone

Debra Granik is the exceptional filmmaker who directed Winter’s Bone in 2010, launching the career of Jennifer Lawrence, and now she returns with this deeply intelligent, complex, finely tuned and observed movie.

Poster for the father-daughter drama Leave No TraceBen Foster and Thomasin McKenzie play Will and Tom, a grizzled army veteran and his 13-year-old daughter. The question of Tom’s mother is not addressed. Will and Tom are living a kind of radical Thoreau/guerrilla existence in a huge public park in Portland, Oregon. They’ve built a secret camp with tarps and rudimentary cooking implements. They share a tent. They read books. They have military-style drills for staying undercover. Periodically, they amble out of the park and into the city, where Will can pick up his prescription for opioid painkillers at the vets hospital, which he can sell for cash on the black market to buy food – and then they return to the jungle. It seems like a perfect, even Edenic setup. But then Tom carelessly allows herself to be spotted by a hiker and things take a wrong turn.

The personae of Will and Tom are strikingly restrained, both in their conception and performance. No scenery-chewing, no fireworks, no obvious scary-Colonel-Kurtz stuff from Will, or obvious teen rebellion histrionics from Tom. Neither appears concerned with what the future holds for them.

When they are picked up by the authorities, they are subject to very similar psychiatric assessments, in which they have to respond true or false to questions about whether they have dark thoughts, etc. In some ways, these tests are callous, soulless – precisely the kind of bureaucratic intrusion that Will has passionately rejected. And yet it is clear that this is the first time either of them have considered these questions. Perhaps not having to think about yourself, not having to shoulder the burden of relentless neurotic self-examination, is part of what their way of life is about.

Interestingly, getting picked up and then escaping is also part of their way of life. They have clearly planned for what happens. They have to accept – or pretend to accept – the social services’ remedial plans for them before they can slip away once more. There is a great sequence in which they attend a church service, blandly complaisant, not making a fuss, not standing out, biding their time. Or rather it is Will who is biding his time; Tom isn’t so sure. Each time away from the wild brings Tom into contact with a society that she rather likes. A split is coming. But Granik manages this crisis with cool, unhammy clarity. The intimacy and love between Will and Tom is presented with real delicacy. It’s a movie that will live with me for a long time.

– Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian

 

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