Sundance London: Leave No Trace

Leave No Trace
Leave No Trace
Directed by Debra Granik
Starring Ben Foster, Dale Dickey, Isaiah Stone, Thomasin McKenzie and Ayanna Berkshire

by Joanna Orland

Will (Foster) and his daughter Tom (McKenzie) seem to live an idyllic life off the grid, in a scenic nature reserve near Portland, Oregon. They are not on the run, but merely longing to escape a society to which they feel no connection. A chance encounter with a stranger leads the authorities to find the pair, remove them from their camp and threaten them with separation unless they follow the rules of society. While Tom swiftly adapts and discovers a longing for community, Will withdraws further, unable to adapt to everyday society after years of service in the military.

On the surface, Leave No Trace is a beautifully shot ambient rural drama, depicting a relationship between father and daughter. Tom’s need for community coincides with her need for independence from her father, in a coming-of-age tale of a young girl finding her freedom. Delving deeper, Leave No Trace is a film about veterans and America’s disregard for their phyiscal, emotional and social welfare. Clearly taking inspiration from her own documentary Stray Dog, director Debra Granik subtly portrays Will’s inner turmoil and inability to return to a normal life.

It is in fact this subtlety, through visual metaphor and meaningful scenarios, that makes Leave No Trace such a poignant social commentary. Little dialogue is spoken throughout, much of the film feels observational and intimate. Tonally similar to her previous film Winter’s Bone, Granik’s distinct voice has emerged at the forefront of modern American cinema. Although none of Granik’s films make for an easy watch, all are essential.


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