Movie ReviewsLeave No Trace – An Authentic Family Drama

Keith NoakesJuly 12, 2018

There have been plenty of commercials declaring this the best reviewed film of the Summer. While it is a great film, I’m not quite there.

Synopsis: A teenage girl, Tom, and her veteran father Will have lived undetected for years in Forest Park, a vast woods on the edge of Portland, Oregon. A chance encounter leads to their discovery and removal from the park and into the charge of a social services agency. They try to adapt to their new surroundings, until a sudden decision sets them on a perilous journey into the wilderness seeking complete independence and forcing them to confront their conflicting desire to be part of a community and fierce need to live apart. (Elevation Pictures)

Starring: Ben Foster, Thomasin McKenzie, and Dale Dickey

Writers: Debra Granik and Anne Rosellini

Director: Debra Granik

Rating: PG (Canada/United States)

Running Time: 108mins


If this could be described in one word, it would be authentic. This authenticity allows the viewers to become immersed into the story and to care about its characters. The film wants us to go along for the ride and for the most part it succeeds. This is because it did not have that much more to offer narrative wise. There wasn’t much of a story here but was rather the culmination of their experiences as we blindly followed them. The understated nature of the film allowed us to focus on the relationship between the two main characters, a veteran father named Will (Foster) and his daughter Tom (McKenzie).

Will and Tom have been living in a park in the Portland, Oregon area for years. They were perfectly content with their way of life until an unfortunate incident led to their discovery. The prospect of adapting into the rest of society proved difficult for them. This time would test their strong bond as Tom was stuck between the life she had and the life she could have with her father being the only thing that stood in her way. This outcome may very well be predictable, however, it was not any less powerful to watch. It was easy to relate to Tom’s frustration here as she pretty much had to choose between her father whom she loved and her future.

Tom’s side of the equation was clear but Will’s wasn’t nearly as clear. His trajectory was a slow burn as layers were slowly being peeled away, perhaps too slow. A little more character development on his part would have made that slow burn slightly more bearable. Though there was clearly something going on with him mentally, he primarily acted as a roadblock for Tom. His relationship with his daughter was still strong, however, it wasn’t nearly as strong as Tom’s relationship with him. The story just needed more depth from him specifically. This lack of depth ultimately took away from the impact of what happened at the end.

As mentioned, this film was very authentic in feel, making it easy to become immersed in the story and characters. The script played a part in this as well as the beautiful cinematography and camerawork. Most of the film took place in the wilderness and Will and Tom were only a small part of it. The many forests of Oregon were magnificent to look at, enough to act as another character in the story. Everything about the film felt so natural that it didn’t seem like a fictional drama but rather at times, a documentary about a father and daughter.

The best part of the film by far were the excellent performances by Foster and McKenzie as Will and Tom respectively. It would definitely not have worked nearly as well as it did if not for their performances as it heavily relied on their characters to carry the story. It relied on both of them to convey all the emotion through their facial expressions and body language and for the most part, they did it well. Despite the lack of character development, Foster fill most of the gaps through his performance and had great chemistry with McKenzie. McKenzie often outshone Foster with an equally nuanced performance as a girl who grew through her experience with her father that was full of many ups and downs emotionally, however, she was up to the challenge.

Overall, this was a beautifully authentic and understated family drama that just made you care about the characters through its compelling story and performances. Ben Foster and especially Thomasin McKenzie were superb but its understated nature took away some of its emotional power.

Score: 9/10

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    July 12, 2018 at 3:05 PM

    We loved it, the authenticity definitely, also the subtlety and subtexts

    • Keith Noakes

      July 12, 2018 at 3:15 PM

      A little too much of it but still a great one.

  • Tony Briley

    July 22, 2018 at 9:59 AM

    I listened to a review of this on the radio the other day and after hearing that I added this to my must-see list. You seem to say the same things I heard on the radio, so there’s no doubt this must be a good movie and one that I’ll have to see.

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