Leave No Trace, which I saw by myself at the Spectrum Theatre in Albany, is Debra Granik and Anne Rosellini’s screen adaptation of Peter Rock’s novel My Abandonment, directed by Granik, and produced by Rosellini.
Will (Ben Foster) and his teenage daughter Tom (Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie) live in the forests near Portland, OR. They are extremely resourceful, collecting rainwater to drink, using tools efficiently, and hiding away their presence when necessary. Chess is their game of preference.
When their life choice is crushed, they are put into social services system separately. Eventually, they are reunited and put into their new surroundings, but it is a challenge. Fitting into this iteration of the world seems beyond reach.
Leave No Trace is a beautiful, poignant American film. It is, I am told, quite different from Winter’s Bone (2010), Jennifer Lawrence’s breakout role in another Granik/ Rosellini collaboration. Thomasin McKenzie, who is being compared to Lawrence by critics, is an 18-year-old from an acting family in Wellington, New Zealand. Her real voice is very Kiwi, but there’s no evidence of that accent in the performance.
There is very good use of music in this movie, most notably Michael Hurley and Marisa Anderson singing O My Stars. And animals, at pivotal points in the story. Nothing in this seems extraneous. Every choice, including the lack of dialogue early on, seem deliberate methods of advancing the plot.
The film may lead the viewer to questions the nature of society and where the line is between the rights of the individual and the presumed common good. This is largely a gentle, non-violent, yet heartbreaking film which should be experienced, preferably in a theater rather than on a small screen.
Odd, but this is the second father-and-daughter saga I’ve seen this summer, after Hearts Go Loud, and I’m looking forward to yet another one very soon, Eighth Grade, the trailer for which I almost know by heart.