Sunday, August 23, 2020

Leave No Trace

Based on the novel My Abandonment by Peter Rock, Leave No Trace is the story of a PTSD war veteran who lives in the woods with his teenage daughter as they hide from society until they’re found as they struggle to adjust with the modern world. Directed by Debra Granik and screenplay by Granik and Anne Rosellini, the film is an exploration of a father trying to protect his daughter from the horrors of modern-day society as well as trying to find a place they can call home. Starring Ben Foster, Thomasin McKenzie, Jeff Kober, and Dale Dickey. Leave No Trace is a rapturous and somber film from Debra Granik.

The film is the simple story of a PTSD war veteran who lives in seclusion in the woods with his daughter as they are eventually found and taken into the modern world as the man struggles with his new surroundings though his daughter is intrigued by it. It’s a film with a simple premise as screenwriters Debra Granik and Anne Rossellini as there isn’t a lot of heavy dialogue in favor of its main protagonists in Will (Ben Foster) and his daughter Tom (Thomasin McKenzie) just living their life in the woods as the first act is about their life in the woods and how Will makes money to get supplies as it involves him and Tom going into the city where Will gets meds and sell them to the other troubled veterans. When Tom is accidentally discovered by a hiker, everything changes as the second act has the two evaluated and given a home where Will begrudgingly works for a Christmas tree farmer. It is there where Will and Tom’s relationship changes as the latter slowly befriends people and finds a community but Will’s own troubles forces them to flee as uncertainty becomes the norm. Even as Will and Tom struggle to find a new home despite the latter’s need for stability.

Granik’s direction is entrancing for not just the visuals she creates but also in the atmosphere she maintains in this battle of nature vs. the modern world as a backdrop between the relationship between father and daughter. Shot largely on location in Oregon with Portland being the city, the film does use a lot of wide shots not just to establish the locations but also in creating some unique compositions as it relates to the disconnect between Will and Tom and their own encounter with society. Even as it play into the growing separation between father and daughter as it relates to their encounter with the world. Granik also brings some intimacy into the medium shots and close-ups as the latter help play into the sense of fear and uncertainty that Will and Tom would face. Even as they also try to adjust to living at home where Will becomes uneasy with his new surroundings that includes a shot of a helicopter flying above him carrying trees.

Granik also maintains that atmosphere during the second act where Will and Tom return to their old home only to realize it’s gone while other people who were living nearby also lose their homes. Granik maintains that realism into the struggle to find a home within the woods away from modern society and cities but there is also this uncertainty into what they will find. The film’s third act has Granik showcase an alternative where Will and Tom don’t have to be in society but also a place that is stable and with a community of its own. It is a community that does feel like it isn’t totally disconnected from the modern world but offers a haven for someone like Will who continues to struggle with PTSD. Yet, Granik focuses on this father/daughter relationship that is trying to stay together but there are things that Will is unable to handle while Tom is eager to be part of something as its ending is about a father and daughter making a decision about the future and salvation for both of them. Overall, Granik crafts a heart-wrenching yet riveting film about a father-and-daughter trying to live their life away from the trappings of modern society.

Cinematographer Michael McDonough does brilliant work with the film’s cinematography with its approach to natural lighting for many of the daytime exterior scenes with a few filters for some of the scenes set in the rain along with low-key lighting for some of the interior scenes. Editor Jane Rizzo does excellent work with the editing as it is largely straightforward with a few jump-cuts for dramatic purposes as well as rhythmic cuts to play into the reaction of the characters. Production designer Chad Keith, with set decorator Vanessa Knoll and art director Jonathan Guggenheim, does amazing work with the look of the home that Will and Tom lived in at the woods as well as the house they would briefly stay in as it play into the contrast of the two worlds they encounter.

Costume designer Erin Aldridge Orr does fantastic work with the costumes as it is largely straightforward with casual clothes including knitted clothing and hats that both Will and Tom wear. Sound editor Damian Volpe does superb work with the sound to maintain that air of natural atmosphere of the locations in the woods as well as the chaotic sounds of the city. The film’s music by Dickon Hinchliffe is incredible for its rich mixture of folk and ambient music as it play into the air of uncertainty and drama that Will and Tom endure in their journey while music supervisor Susan Jacobs provide a soundtrack that features elements of folk and indie that feature contributions from Michael Hurley and Marisa Anderson who both appear in the film as musicians in the film’s third act and Kendra Smith with a song that appears in the film’s final credits.

The casting by Kerry Barden, Simon Max Hill, and Paul Schnee is wonderful as it feature some notable small roles from Isiah Stone as a teenage farm boy that Tom befriends, Derek John Drescher as a homeless veteran Will does business with, Michael Prosser as Will’s social worker, Dana Millican as Tom’s social worker, David M. Pittman as a former Army medic in the film’s third act that helps Will, Jeff Kober as a tree farm owner, and Dale Dickey in a terrific small role as a trailer park owner in the film’s third act who helps Will and Tom find a new home as well as a stable lifestyle. Finally, there’s the duo of Ben Foster and Thomasin McKenzie in phenomenal performances in their respective roles as Will and Tom. Foster brings that ragged tone to his character that is full of anguish and regret as a man that is trying to live away from society as he is unable to handle with a lot of the things that hurts him. McKenzie’s performance is the most revelatory as this young woman who had little encounter with the outside world and society yet finds some of its value as it relates to community and a sense of belonging. Even as she manages to be natural in her reaction to things while she has a great rapport with Foster as it adds to the understated tone of her performance.

Leave No Trace is a magnificent film from Debra Granik that features tremendous performances from Ben Foster and Thomasin McKenzie. Along with its ensemble cast, gorgeous visuals, minimalist story, a somber music score, and a study of a father/daughter relationship against the ideas of the modern world. It’s a film that explore two people living away from the trappings of society as they later cope with the modern world and what it would offer with one struggling to be part of and another wanting to be part of it. In the end, Leave No Trace is an outstanding film from Debra Granik.

Debra Granik Films: Down to the Bone - Winter's Bone - (Stray Dog (2014 film))

© thevoid99 2020


Brittani Burnham said...

This movie is so good. I was so surprised when I learned Thomisn Mackenzie was from New Zealand, her American accent is perfect in this, and Ben Foster is always great. He's overdue for so many Oscar nominations.

thevoid99 said...

@Brittani-It was better than I thought it would be as I really liked how understated it was as is the performances as I really liked Thomasin McKenzie's performance as I think great things are coming to her as I hope she doesn't go into mega-stardom like J-Law did. Ben Foster has always been an amazing actor as I think this is the best performance of his career as I hope he gets an Oscar nod real soon.

Jay said...

I loved this - it's so minimalist so you can really focus on the characters. Quiet movies are a gamble but when they work, they work big.

thevoid99 said...

@Jay-For me, films with a minimalist plot tend to work for me as I don't need to think very much and just watch everything unfold as this is a film that definitely works.

VinnieH said...

Wonderful review as always. This has just arrived on streaming services where I am. I’m definitely going to watch it soon.

thevoid99 said...

@vinnieh-I saw it on Starz as it's definitely a film that people need to see.