REVIEW: Leave No Trace

Try and leave no trace… of tears.

Within the wilderness of a public park, a homeless child and her father are ushered into urban life, despite their objections.

Directed by Debra Granik and based off the novel My Abandonment by Peter Rock, Leave No Trace is that new film which happens to be sitting on an 100% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes… a fact I did not know going into said film. In fact, I was kind of blind when watching Leave No Trace; I was unaware of the film’s plot, the filmmakers behind it and full disclosure, I have never seen Granik’s critically acclaimed Winter’s Bone. So yeah I really had no idea what to think and feel when watching Leave No Trace, and to cut the whole thing short, woah, this film flawed me.

(Courtesy of Sundance Film Festival 2018)

From a technical standpoint, Leave No Trace is near perfect filmmaking. Relying on the visual medium that film is rather than excessive dialogue and constant dumpings of exposition, Granik’s newest feature is a slow moving observation of a relationship between a father and his daughter. Leave No Trace ventures far from shallow waters and tackles the currents and waves of a greater power – a force of nature. In what can almost be summarised as the bleaker flavoured Captain Fantastic, Leave No Trace is a film that panders to themes of family, coming-of-age, homelessness, war, abandonment and so much more, without barely allowing its two protagonists to speak many words.

To get it out of the way first up, Ben Foster and Thomasin McKenzie are just tremendous in this film as the central father and daughter figures. Foster, I think we can all agree, is an actor who’s been building quite the remarkable reputation in its acting roles. From Hell or High Water to now Leave No Trace, I have no doubt in my mind Foster is going places and will quite possibly have his name floated around during 2019 awards season. However the real breakout star of the show would have to be McKenzie, a young female talent who will most likely give gold old Meryl Streep a run for her money next year at the Academy Awards. Just from the subtleness and resistance McKenzie shows from being loud and expression-filled; this actress plays it so cool and collected with her face alone revealing a sea of emotion all audiences can immediately connect to. Again, I will reiterate, I have never seen Winter’s Bone, however from all accounts, that film was the stage Jennifer Lawrence used to propel herself into stardom – I would not be surprised if Leave No Trace does the same for McKenzie on a magnitude of levels.

Considering shot composition and Granik’s ability to fill each frame with so much meaning and depth truly shows the capabilities of film as a pure art form when well realised. The sound design and effects that amplify sounds of helicopters and ultimately the threatening and horrifying intrusion of war in Foster’s character’s frame of mind, really pushes for this film to ultimately have an intimate and effective take on the harrowing problem of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The way the camera, the writing and the acting all portray the visible distance Foster’s character has towards the rest of the world, really works in such devastating ways as the audience too is forced to feel the same unhealthy distance. It soon proves difficult to detach oneself from feeling the same uncomfort and unease towards humanity as Foster’s character does, and therefore through this queasiness, Granik propels audiences into the shoes of McKenzie’s character.

Like McKenzie’s character (by the way, her name is Tom and his name is Will, so let’s just establish that before I keep saying the word ‘character’), the audience feel trapped and isolated in a world with the traumatised Will, who may never physically or verbally give reason to be fear or disturbed, but does mentally drain you and draw you into his way of thinking. Adequately, the narrative of Leave No Trace works just as well through atmosphere as it does through character development – and this film, by the way, is an extremely well written character piece. To continue on the idea the audience is placed in the perspective of Tom, we feel the same comfort she does towards the film’s beginning, which then develops into confusion, angst and eventually mysterious new beginnings. Through Tom, Leave No Trace really tries translating what the definition of ‘home’ is, and home is, well, as they always say… where the heart is.

Leave No Trace may be a confronting and harrowing film in points that will put you on edge dramatically, purely due to how real and impactful the father/daughter relationship is overall, but damn is it a heartwarming one. Leave No Trace may not at first appear much like a film about family and the home, but it damn well sure is one of the best depictions in cinema of what those two words truly mean. The growth of these two characters are incredible as, if you follow the Dan Harmon story circle, you see two complete arcs for the price of one, both climaxing at a conclusion that will tear you up inside.

I have a lot to say about Leave No Trace, but, more appropriately, I have a lot to emotionally express about Leave No Trace. This is one of the most perfect films I have seen in 2018, and to be frank with you, I want to cut this review as short as possible because I want this film to remain partly a mystery to audiences. Leave No Trace is best experienced in the dark – a narrative so tightly woven and yet so roomy for such rich storytelling and character growth. Leave No Trace is a treat for film lovers and honestly  something I feel all mature audiences should at least try and make time to experience.

Now, if you wouldn’t all mind, I need to go watch Winter’s Bone.

Leave No Trace is, in fact… LOST ART.


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