Leave No Trace

Directed by Debra Granik who is best known for the 2010 Oscar-nominated film Winter’s Bone that helped bring Jennifer Lawrence to stardom, Leave No Trace is a somber and beautiful movie that encapsulates the bond between father and daughter and is marked by top-notch acting performances. The story follows a veteran suffering from PTSD named Will, played by the terrific Ben Foster, who lives off-the-grid in the forested wilderness outside Portland, Oregon with his young teenage daughter Tom, played by the captivating New Zealand actress Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie. After years of living a peaceful existence with bare necessities and very little human contact, they are eventually discovered by local authorities who place them in social services since it is illegal to live on public land and Tom has not been attending school. The separation between the extremely close father and daughter becomes almost unbearable because they have become dependent on one another living on their own in the wild. When they are given an opportunity to live a more normal lifestyle on a tree farm in rural Oregon, Will struggles and over time decides that they need to return to the wilderness despite Tom’s increasingly strong desire to remain a normal teenager living among her peers. She mostly goes along with her father because she knows that he is suffering from his traumatic experiences while he served in the military. He is unable to cope with being around a lot of seemingly normal people who do not understand his experiences, and he simply wants to shut off reality. Heightening the emotional impact of such a heartwarming yet heartbreaking story, the filmmaker makes the excellent choice to portray the narrative in a slow burn fashion in which the unusual premise has room to grow and not become over-dramatized. Furthermore, it enhanced the feeling of being surrounded by the quiet and magnificent wilderness that leads to a slow pace of life. Overall, I found it to be one of the more powerful films I have seen in recent memory because it contains such a thought-provoking and simple story of father-daughter love and is very much an actor’s movie in which the two lead actors give brilliantly nuanced performances.

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