|Posted by Nick Spake on June 26, 2018 at 2:40 PM|
From “The Hurt Locker,” to “American Sniper,” to “Thank You for Your Service,” we’ve gotten a lot of recent films that explore the side effects of war. “Leave No Trace” is one of the most unique movies to tackle such subject matter. The film has no footage of military combat. Actually, virtually any acts of violence whatsoever take place off-screen. The main character is never even depicted wearing a uniform and his experiences overseas are left mostly ambiguous. At first, many audience members likely won’t pick up on the subtle hints that our protagonist is a veteran suffering from PTSD. It’s this understated approach that makes “Leave No Trace” one of the best movies of its kind, though.
The film centers on Ben Foster’s Will and Thomasin McKenzie’s Tom, a father and daughter eternally camping in the woods. The opening scenes are largely clouded in mystery as we try to wrap our heads around their unusual living situation. Did aliens invade earth like in “A Quiet Place?” Did Will take parenting advice from the dad in “Captain Fantastic?” Is Meryl Streep about to pop out singing “Stay with Me?” The circumstances start to become clear after Will and Tom are discovered by the cops. Unable to return to their camp, the two are put up in a house via social services. It doesn’t take long for Tom to adjust to this change, getting along well with her new neighbors. While Will makes an effort, he simply can’t integrate himself back into society after enduring such trauma.
Foster has been doing reliable work as a character actor for well over two decades. Where he was previously seen as a wild card of sorts in “Hell or High Water,” Foster gives a low-key performance here that strikes just the right note. Like numerous other veterans, Will often appears cool and collected on the surface, but is overcome with pain and paranoia underneath. After everything he’s been through, this man is only able to find comfort in solitude. The fact that Will is responsible for his daughter’s well-being greatly complicates matters, though.
McKenzie delvers a powerful breakthrough performance as Tom, who loves her father and is willing to follow him wherever he goes. Once Tom gets a taste of a normal life, however, she may never able to go back to living in a tent. It would’ve been easy to depict Will as an abusive, manipulative parent who forces is beliefs on his child. While Will’s parenting techniques are indeed unethical, he’s also an understanding dad who wants his daughter to be happy. Since they’re unable to stay on the same course, though, Will may have no choice but to let Tom go. As unconventional as their condition might be, the audience doesn’t doubt Will and Tom’s rapport for a second.
Director/co-writer Debra Granik previously brought us “Winter’s Bone,” which was draped in dreary snow. In “Leave No Trace,” Granik submerges the audience in a green, springtime setting that’s beautiful while also being isolating, which perfectly fits the film’s tone. While the premise is certainly heavy-handed, the film merits a PG rating with no sex or bad language. This is a surprisingly inclusive drama that can appeal to wide range of ages. If you come from a military family or know somebody who’s gone through a similar ordeal, it’s definitely a must-see.
Grade: 4 out of 5 Stars