Starring: Ben Foster, Thomasin McKenzie, Dana Millican
Director: Debra Granik
Running Time: 109 mins
Leave No Trace is an American film about a man and his daughter who are living an ideal existence in the woods, but soon find their way of life turned upside down.
Quiet, elegant and contemplative, Leave No Trace is an engrossing and affecting watch throughout, complete with brilliant directing from Debra Granik, as well as two stunning lead performances from Ben Foster and Thomasin McKenzie. Taking on a complex and very relevant subject matter, the film builds its drama patiently and appropriately, allowing you to really understand and sympathise with the main characters as they take on a unique path in life.
Let’s start off with the film’s atmosphere, because while the dramatic depth and emotion is undoubtedly powerful and thoroughly engrossing, Leave No Trace isn’t a film that makes that immediately apparent, and that’s a very good thing.
Starting in riveting fashion as we follow a man and his daughter camping out in the woods, acting secretively for an unknown reason, the film does brilliantly to build intrigue and tension during its opening phase without ever directly stating what’s happening, thereby requiring you to delve deeper into everything that’s behind the characters’ actions, something that has the longer-term effect of crafting a strong emotional connection with the lead duo.
The film is quiet and elegant from the opening act, and while its subject matter isn’t an entirely positive one, the movie’s appreciation of nature and a simpler way of life is something that proves deeply moving from beginning to end, with director Debra Granik brilliantly crafting a calm, emotionally affecting atmosphere that’s used to a stunningly immersive effect.
So, while the film also offers a fascinating and appropriately understated insight into the lives of those who find themselves living outside what is considered ‘the norm’, it also has a deeper, more naturalistic core that makes for a genuinely touching and engrossing watch.
On top of that, the two lead performances are absolutely brilliant, and prove integral to the film’s fantastic emotional intrigue and dramatic power. Ben Foster’s ambiguous turn is contrasted with his calming presence in every scene, meaning that he’s just as pleasing and riveting a character to support as a deep enigma to decipher, however the real stand-out is without a doubt Thomasin McKenzie, whose performance may be quiet and timid, but packs a brilliant emotional depth throughout.
As the film develops, and we see McKenzie’s young character exposed to more and more about the wider world, the story shifts focus to largely look at her, which is the icing on the cake for the film’s fascinating and contemplative story. As well as working as a wider look at the subject matter, the film is an intimate and direct character piece that sees the development of a young girl as she negotiates an important time in her life, while also featuring powerful lessons about life and growth that everybody can relate to.
Leave No Trace proves a riveting watch throughout, and after starting with a riveting opening act, the story builds in power and intrigue during its eye-opening middle portion. However, the only real downside to the film comes in the form of its final act, which is unfortunately stagnant in relation to the film’s fascinating earlier acts, only coming across as a plot device to get to the film’s emotional ending, without packing the same punch as had been achieved previously.
Overall, then, I was very impressed with Leave No Trace. A powerfully elegant and moving piece from beginning to end, complete with beautiful directing and a deeply contemplative story, the movie is an engrossing and immersive watch throughout, complete with two fantastic lead performances from Ben Foster and Thomasin McKenzie, and that’s why I’m giving it a 7.7.