Chew's Reviews - Leave No Trace

By Gary Chew | July 12, 2018 |

Opens Friday, July 13 in Davis | 

A father and daughter are separated after not following the law? No ... this film doesn't take place in south Texas in the early, hot summer of 2018. But you'd swear it was timed by the distributor to release just as the Trump Ambiguation (Sorry, I meant to type, “Administration.”) is about to tactically splinter families pouring north over America's southern border. There is a subtle vibration in the first act of LEAVE NO TRACE that plays in the same key as what's currently going on in McAllen, Brownsville and the little desert burb of El Paso called Tornillo.

This small saga ... directed by Debra Granik (WINTER'S BONE) ... plays out in a cooler clime quite close to Portland, Oregon. The father is Will; Ben Foster plays him The fourteenish-looking daughter is called Tom. Newcomer Thomasin Harcourt MacKenzie, a native of New Zealand, has that part.

Will has returned from one of the many wars recently fought by U-S citizens. It might be Afghanistan or Iraq. Wherever Will did his service, he's brought a large load of PTSD back with him. Will is now a widower. He and his wife had one child: Tom. The script stays hazy about the life Will and his wife had together and what happened, precisely, in terms of the trauma Will suffered in the service.

LEAVE NO TRACE begins in the deep, green forest that's almost in shouting distance of Portland. Dad and daughter have lived off the grid for an unspecified time. We see the pair right away doing what a father and daughter might when they live in isolation: foraging for food and water .. and only using a modest propane stove for food preparation when it's absolutely necessary. Will and Tom have superbly sequestered themselves from hunters, hikers, fishermen … and hopefully, the park rangers who are on task apprehending anyone living full-time in the park. That's against Oregon state law. But, not to worry, both Will and Tom are American citizens.

Well, maybe a little worry. The pair is arrested after a chase through thick underbrush in the beautiful woods. Will tells Tom to obey the rangers as he also does.

(I pause here to say that every character in LEAVE NO TRACE is scripted as a good person, whatever their station in life. I found this rather unrealistic, but realize the movie's message doesn't require that bad guys need be in the plot.)

For a brief period, Will and his girl are separated ... during which state social services personnel assess each of them. Will is full-bore anti-social. I-phones, television sets and the like are not appropriate to his lifestyle. Since Tom is in her mid-teens, she's somewhat open to and curious about new things and making connections with other people besides her father. She's been well-taught by her dad and even ahead of “her class,” so to speak, in reading skills. They have a loving, normal relationship, but Will wants to keep himself and his girl away from the flurry and buzz of an over-populated, modern-day existence.

Debra Granik may be helping to open yet another career door for a young actress. Granik did it for Jennifer Lawrence, casting her as the lead in Granik's WINTER'S BONE from 2010. Both pictures have much in common. The Lawrence movie was shot in the Ozarks of southwest Missouri. LEAVE NO TRACE was filmed in the Pacific Northwest. Moreover, both pictures are about straightforward, honest people who also have another thing in common. All of them are ordinary. How refreshing.

Copyright © 2018 by Gary Chew. All rights reserved.

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