A father (Ben Foster) and daughter (Thomasin McKenzie) live a perfect but mysterious existence in Forest Park, a beautiful nature reserve near Portland, Oregon, rarely making contact with the world. But when a small mistake tips them off to authorities, they are sent on an increasingly erratic journey in search of a place to call their own.
I had heard about Leave No Trace a little bit before watching it, it had been getting some pretty good reception and had Ben Foster in it, but outside of that didn’t know much about it, I didn’t even really know what the actual premise of the whole movie was. While I don’t love the movie as much as other people, I do think that it’s pretty good, and the lead performances are nothing short of fantastic.
The story of Leave No Trace isn’t exactly given a particular structure or necessarily leading to something (outside of the ending), it’s more so just following the two lead characters for 110 minutes. I did find the movie to drag a bit but I’ll admit that I was in a tired mood when watching it, and that probably negatively affected my experience with the movie. It is definitely a slow burn movie, so you have to be in the mood to watch it. I will say though that I was expecting more from the movie though once I got a general idea about what the movie was about. For example a part of the movie is that Ben Foster’s father character has PTSD, which clearly has made an impact on him and the decisions that he makes. However the film don’t really touch upon it as much as they could’ve, like it’s stated that he has PTSD and that’s it, they don’t address it outside of that. Leave No Trace is definitely going for a more quieter storytelling method, and for the most part it works well enough. However I think that more dialogue between the father and daughter characters would’ve allowed us to learn about these characters more and therefore care more about what happens with them. I will say though that the ending of the movie is really good.
The main reason to watch this movie is for the performances by Ben Foster and Thomasin McKenzie, their characters and their father/daughter connection are what hold the movie together. They are very subtle and feel real in their performances, McKenzie is particularly great. This movie was basically relying on them being great, and it wouldn’t have worked at all without them, thankfully they were more than up for the task. As mentioned earlier, giving more dialogue between these characters would’ve made us care about them more, but their performances does elevate them above the material that they have.
This film was directed by Debra Granik (who directed Winter’s Bone, a movie I haven’t seen but heard is pretty good) and the whole movie was very directed well overall. Whenever it goes into forest locations, it really does feel like it’s deep in the forest, with the cinematography being fantastic. Granik also keeps the film throughout pretty low key and grounded, there aren’t any large, loud or flashy moments that are out of place at all, which works well with the type of story that she’s going for.
Leave No Trace is a solid film, with good direction and great performances. You definitely need to be in the mood to watch it, it is a slow burn film just following two characters and you need to know that going in. However it still is worth watching, at the very least for the performances of Ben Foster and Thomasin McKenzie.