In an early Summer of Indies, we’re given a beautiful and authentic drama with no big budget appeals, no R-ratings, no cliches, and no spoiled turds. And that Indie would be “Leave No Trace,” the latest from writer/director Debra Granik (the Oscar-nominated “Winter’s Bone”). It’s a green representation of split decisions, one is content and the other is haunted. But we’ll get to that part in a tick.
The movie stars Ben Foster as an army vet named Will and Thomasin Harcourt MacKenzie (“Lucy Lewis Can’t Lose”) as his daughter Tom, both of whom live in the local forest of Portland, Oregon. They spend their days camouflaging their campground and themselves, and keeping themselves warm. But they’re not savages, as they do tend to go into town for food and supplies.
Then, one day when Tom gets spotted by a jogger, the police and park rangers take them in. Bare in mind: Will’s not wanted for neither murder nor kidnapping, but it is illegal for them to live on public land, and he must provide for Tom.
So, they end up in a small house owned by Mr. Walters (Jeff Kober), who gives Will a job harvesting pine trees for the holidays. Tom is able to adjust more than Will can, and that’s why they catch the bus, hitch a ride on a truck, and keep going North.
They eventually find sanctuary at a local campground. Well, at least Tom does, while Will keeps struggling from PTSD. What happened to him? I guess he doesn’t want to talk about it, and neither does the movie, but that’s okay. The film is sentimental towards that.
“Leave No Trace,” based on Peter Rock’s book “My Abandonment,” is human in the ways we see the father trying to escape from society, and the daughter trying to join it. He’s not abusive, and she’s not spoiled, ergo, they’re not even close to standard, and that’s great. Foster gives his best performance since “Hell or High Water,” and MacKenzie shows off radiant life. And you also get some nice supporting work from Dale Dickey (“Winter’s Bone” and “Hell or High Water”) as a woman who the girl befriends at the campground.
The filming locations in Oregon are just lovely. The forests, the rain, and the plants gives us a clean, green feeling. And the ways the two main characters travel, I don’t know if I would call this a road trip picture, but if it is, it’s a great one.
Granik has done a beautiful job with the movie, because of how she guides the actors with the right emotions, and how she studies the true nature of the story. But most of all, she hasn’t provided a single cliche in neither the characters, narrative, or dialogue.
This is one of the best movies of the year.