Leave No Trace (12)

Nov 27, 2019
Anson Paul

“A deeply intelligent story of love and survival in the wild.” The Guardian

An army veteran suffering with PTSD and his daughter live in the woods, off grid, rarely making contact with society. A small mistake brings them to the attention of the authorities and they embark on an erratic journey to find a place to call their own.  A powerful and poignant tale.




Debra Granik’s new film ‘Leave No Trace’ is based on the 2009 novel ‘My Abandonment’ by Peter Rock. This could be the bleakest of tales, the story of a veteran suffering from post traumatic stress disorder living outside society with his daughter, but is in fact suffused with kindness, good will and genuine love.

First we see an impenetrable forest of green, a public park in Portland, Oregon. Will (Ben Foster) and Tom (Thomasin Harcourt-McKenzie) are going about their daily routines mostly wordlessly. This harsh Eden is disrupted when a jogger spots Tom and reports her presence to the authorities. Will and Tom are taken into custody from the soft cocooning green into the harsh fluorescent light of a detention centre. There are no stereotypes here and the officials are doing their best to help in a troublesome situation. Tom learns to mix with other kids and moves from being highly protected to realising she can choose her own future. There is the feel of a documentary about the film as it examines the conflicting needs of an emotionally damaged veteran and a young child in a quiet non-judgmental way.  It is fascinating to see glimpses of Tom’s curiosity about the world pitted against her loyalty to her father.

This slightly gloomy and redemptive film fits well with earlier films on the theme of the outsider, such as ‘Huckleberry Finn’ and ‘Easy Rider’. It treats the characters within it with absolute respect and allows the story to meander following its own path much as Will and Tom wandered through the woods. It is stripped down in style and is very quiet emotionally. The real understanding of Tom and Will’s moods come through the intelligent work of Scottish cinematographer, Michael McDonough, through his use of filters, lenses and focal length. When Will and Tom are settled the camera comes in close and the filters are green, when they feel alienated it moves away and grey tones predominate – simple and very effective. Granik and McDonough were students together at New York University and both studied under Professor Boris Frumin whose mantra was to focus on the truth and the reality of what you are looking at.

The film score is by Dickon Hinchliffe who wrote the music for ‘Locke’ a film we showed a few season’s back. It was selected as one of the best film scores at music site, ‘A Closer Listen’. The music reflects Granik’s profound empathy that is so apparent in this film. Indeed Foster said of her direction, “She’s the most intense director I’ve even worked with…everything matters…she’s hunting something authentic.” He was also quick of praise the maturity and acting ability of his daughter on set. New Zealander Tom is an actress to watch. The other thing to look out for is the delightful scene at the rabbit training school, oh and the encounter with the honeybees.

This is at its heart a delightful story of the innocent intimacy and love between a father and daughter.



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