'Leave No Trace' Review: Debra Granik’s latest film leaves its trace in the heart

A Potpourri of Vestiges Review

By Tanmay Shukla

Featured in IMDb Critic Reviews

Leave No Trace, MAMI 2018, Movie Screening, Mumbai Film Festival

Leave No Trace has Debra Granik’s signature all over it. Her breakthrough film Winter’s Bone received wide critical acclaim and Leave No Trace is another successful example of her style of filmmaking which is practically unmatched today in its treatment and execution. With Leave No Trace, Debra Granik pushes the bar even further. She is not holding the attention with the plot, she does it through the two central characters, a father and daughter. She gives more room to Tom, the daughter, who has been subjected to a life which few of her age have ever imagined, let alone experience it first end.

Ben Foster plays Will and is brilliant as Tom’s caring father. Tom is played by the very talented teenage actress Thomasin McKenzie, who slips into her role and is too good for her age. Her character in Leave No Trace required a talent of her calibre and she is a talent to watch out in future.

Will is homeless by choice, and he is living with his daughter in a park outside Portland. He is an Iraq war veteran who has lost his wife and he is suffering from PTSD (gets helicopter nightmares). One day, Tom gets seen by a stranger and cops tracks them down. A certain Mr. Walters volunteers to let them in his house, in return Will works at his tree farm. Will tries but he can’t win when he is fighting with himself.

Tom’s favourite colour is yellow and Will tells that it was her mother’s too. Tom replies: “I wish I could remember her.”

Tom finds a tiny seahorse shaped locket in the jungle which fascinates her. She learns that they find something new for their mate every morning to deepen their bonding. Even though they live are living in isolation, Will has taught her daughter to read and write, overall raising her well.

When Tom is confronted with other people, her awkwardness is evident. She later asks her father: “Why do the kids at school think I am strange?” Will asks her how important are “their judgments?” “We need to adapt,” says Tom.

Will is unable to cope up with “normal life” and they leave the house. Tom says, “I liked it there. Did you even try?”

Will and Tom love and take care of each other. Something died inside Will at the war and he is struggling to deal with his past but Tom isy oung and spirited and she wants to explore. It’s Will who needs isolation, not Tom. She doesn’t want to leave. “Thing which is wrong with you isn’t wrong with me”, says Tom.

Debra Granik has amplified the ambient sounds of forest life which allows the viewer to feel close to the lives of father and daughter. Granik didn’t move the camera much as the landscape lends itself to beautiful compositions which are put in the beginning and end of the film.

The director keeps Leave No Trace toned-down and unflashy. She doesn’t get lured by the stirring and catchy core of her story and puts attention to what matters to her coming-of-age theme: rightly so, the characters and their personal journey gets the highlight. They are close to nature, and their behaviour is nothing but natural.

Leave No Trace is a kind, heartfelt film. The perspective that is usually overlooked is dealt with utmost sensitivity and sympathy by Granik. It is large in scope but Granik and Anne Rosellini (screenplay) stay right on track throughout and the result is an engaging and provoking film which is not hampered by the heavy handedness of one such attempt.

Rating: 7/10

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Leave No Trace - Official Trailer

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