Leave No Trace (4 stars)

Leave No Trace

Sundance London 2018: An unusual father and daughter are at the heart of Debra Granik's latest triumph

Writer-director Debra Granik is best known for introducing the world to Jennifer Lawrence, whose Oscar-nominated breakthrough powered Granik's much-admired sophomore feature Winter's Bone. Leave No Trace provides considerable scope for another fledgling actress to make her mark playing a capable young woman; Thomasin McKenzie stars as Tom, the daughter of a traumatised veteran who drags her from pillar to post.

When we meet teenager Tom and her father Will (Ben Foster) they are residing in Portland's Forest Park in a makeshift camp, taking occasional trips into town for groceries and to collect Will's PTSD medication, which he then sells on. Living on public land draws unwelcome attention and the pair are brought in by the authorities who show them sensitivity but are somewhat bewildered by their lifestyle. When they are set up with a work and housing placement we see how Will struggles to exist within conventional society.

Granik casts a non-judgemental eye over Tom and Will's circumstances, resulting in a beautifully balanced portrait of some highly unconventional parenting. Flashes of humour spotlight the absurdity of civilisation – a bizarre religious dance troupe, risible computerised tests, an idiot taking selfies on a bus – making us more sympathetic to Will's need to live independently.

Tom is healthy, resilient and well-educated; Will has no doubt been a loving father and staunch protector, yet the transient nature of their situation has deprived his daughter of not only stability but any other influences, particularly those that might arise through contact with her peers. Tom's needs are clearly secondary here and her tentative, curious interactions with others betray a desire to put down some real roots. 'The same thing that's wrong with you, isn't wrong with me,' she informs her father at the height of her frustration.

Gorgeously subtle performances free of apparent affectation are the highlight of a warm-hearted but assuredly unsentimental film whose faith in human nature is evident in the kindness of its strangers. Alive to the majesty of the wilderness and the sanctuary it offers a tortured soul, Leave No Trace is a rich and refreshingly apolitical portrait of rural America.

Screened as part of Sundance London 2018. General release from Fri 29 Jun.

Leave No Trace

  • 4 stars
  • 2018
  • US
  • 1h 48min
  • PG
  • Directed by: Debra Granik
  • Cast: Ben Foster, Thomasin McKenzie
  • UK release: 29 June 2018

Tom (McKenzie) is the teenage daughter of Will (Foster), a traumatised military veteran who sells on his own PTSD medication and takes her from place to place, refusing to settle down. Sensitive and non-judgmental picture of a capable young woman and her well-meaning but troubled father, with gorgeously subtle performances.

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