Leave No Trace
Actor Ben Foster (3:10 to Yuma, Hell or High Water & Hostiles) stars in the lead role of an apparent emotionally broken veteran named “Will”. He is the father of a daughter named ‘Tom” (new comer Thomasin McKenzie) and together they have a perfect life of living off the land on a minimum subsistence in Forest Park, a beautiful nature reserve near Portland, Ore., rarely ever making any contact with the outside world. But when a small mistake by “Tom” tips them off to local authorities about them squatting on public lands, they are brought back into a more conventional life to live in a home with running water and electricity. But only after a few days in their new life they become even more erratic and reluctant to living traditionally again by leaving on a more erratic dangerous journey for the search of a place to call their own perfect life in the perfect world of nature.
REVIEW: “Leave No Trace” has the rare score of a 100 on Rotten Tomato, with one film reviewer commenting this film a “low key adult story”. But low key is not a bad thing if you can find ways to add some measure of substance either directly or subtly in explaining who these people are and how they got to be the way they. In this aspect of watching “Leave No Trace” we never really get any answers to who these people are that made their journey a bit frustrating in this respect.
Now early on in the film there are some really veiled attempts to explaining who "Will" is. We see him having nightmares about the sounds of an approaching helicopter and we also see him walking to a local military VA hospital to secure medications that he eventually sells for money to other squatters living near the park. But we are only left to surmise that something terribly traumatic must of happen to him in combat that has broken him to abandoning the norms of a structured family existence to barely surviving from day to day in the woods in a single tent with his daughter. In addition to that point, there is only a single slight passing reference to the daughter’s mother. It is never fully explained about why she is no longer a part of the family. Is she dead? Did she divorce “Will”? Did “Will” kill her?..............These significant gaps in the story bothered me somewhat as the father and daughter moved about through the woods for almost two hours running time with no real primary focus or day to day purpose than to finding someplace dry and warm to sleep and securing enough food to scavenge off the land. And as they go from eating one wild mushroom to creating ways to securing rain water to drink we go from scene after scene not really knowing anything about their earlier circumstances.
I also must admit I was a little creeped out by the nightly closely confines the father and daughter shared in their sleeping tent arrangements. While there was never anything untoward implied or remotely suggested about any sexually abusiveness about their story it still felt uncomfortable for me to watching a daughter and father share the same tight spaces in the same way a husband and wife would.
Ultimately “Leave No trace” is an acutely insular dramatic film about a father and daughter who genuinely love and care for each other with moments in their story that are moving and touching. Their relationship is also a contemplative, sensitive and honest portrayal about the American underclass. With that I found “Leave No Trace” easily watchable especially through the back drop of large beautifully trees, running streams of water, lush green forests and the sounds of birds chirping. It also is a one note story largely about Will” and his emotional problems as the reason for his inability to adapt to society again and the cost his choice to live off the grid puts on to his daughter's life. She is not emotionally broken as her father but nonetheless must still bare the day to day burdens of the impositions placed on her life by his hidden pain and torments. A younger life that is growing more and more by the day that is becoming more fully realized as a woman with her own needs, desires and choices about what she wants and need to survive in an ever changing world.
I found it hard at times to really like what “Will" was imposing on his daughter; his life choices. Still the unusualness of their relationship and their heartfelt companionship through thick and thin was filled with a quiet and thoughtful redemption, candid honesty and sincere authenticity that does carry the film's story all the way to its sober dramatic finale.