FOUR STARS For as long as they can, an ex-Marine and his daughter hide from authority at their makeshift camp.
Ben Foster, Thomasin McKenzie
Echoing 2016’s CAPTAIN FANTASTIC (in which Viggo Mortensen raised his family in the woods to protect them from the outside world), Will (Ben Foster) is raising his daughter Tom (Thomasin McKenzie) in the woods to protect them from government agencies. He’s an ex-vet, punishingly traumatised by his time in the military and determined to live where bureaucracy can no longer touch them. Despite their survival skills and ability to leave no trace in their woodland home, bureaucracy does catch up with them. Will and Tom are processed and given accommodation in a faceless, suburban care facility. Naturally his inner demons follow, forcing them to ‘escape’ back into the wild.
What this extraordinary film by Oscar nominated Debra Granik (she gave us the equally wonderful WINTER’S BONE) achieves, is the effortless way in which she relates the depth of Will’s anguish and suffering without resorting to lecture or melodrama. An accident puts the pair in touch with a community of veterans as wary and damaged as Tom, suggesting there are thousands more like them across the US; walking wounded, discarded by the government they fought to serve. This drives the film, a story that could easily become polemic but in keeping a sharp focus on Tom, Granik contains her personal anger to let their quiet, unassuming story be told, and our sympathy flow freely. It’s quite an achievement.
Granik is ably supported by the always compelling Ben Foster (HELL OR HIGH WATER) and notable newcomer, New Zealand’s Thomasin McKenzie. Neither puts a foot wrong as they construct an utterly convincing bond that both know must change in order for them to survive. Foster’s ravaged Will is simply heartbreaking as he tries to shoulder the burden, and therein the film’s success; the way they both relate their internal struggle and, for Tom, growth, is mesmerising. Distressing too, and certainly sad. Add the terrific camera work of Michael McDonagh (ALBERT NOBBS) plus the astonishing beauty of America’s north west coast and LEAVE NO TRACE does quite the opposite as it firmly etches a place in your heart.