Sundance London 2018 Review – Leave No Trace (2018)

It’s hard to imagine a world before the internet, before social media and being connected to everything and everyone was a way of measuring one’s self, one’s purpose. Indeed, the way we thought about everything has changed so much that the argument for who thinks for us – ourselves or others? – has never been a more keenly debated question. In Debra Granik‘s superb new film, the very essence of such scenarios are brought to the fore with a simple premise: thinking our own thoughts in a world that seems hell-bent on telling us what to do.

Based on a novel by Peter Rock, Leave No Trace transports us to a the dense urban wilderness of Portland, Oregon where father and daughter Will (Ben Foster) and Tom (Thomasin McKenzie) are currently residing. Camping out amongst the stark, lush greenery that encloses them, we aren’t quite sure of the circumstances: Has Tom been kidnapped by her father? Are they homeless and have nowhere else to go? Or are they simply living out the life that is free of tracking and the perils and pitfuls of modern life back in the bustling metropolis that surrounds the park? They seem content enough but despite such precise living, they are soon found and taken back to the real world where their reintroduction to society turns their previous world upside down.

For anyone that saw Granik’s previous film, the brilliant Winter’s Bone, expectations are sure to be high for her latest but she manages to exceed them in every way with a thoughtful, uplifting film that takes its time to reveal it’s true nature but hooks you from moment one. Shot with a wonderful, optimistic eye, the film looks immaculate and embraces the world around us, how beautiful it is and how much we all have left to explore if we all took some more time to appreciate it. “Touch a tree and have it touch you back” was how Foster described the film’s look at life and how right he is.

But under the beauty of it’s setting is a narrative that feels immediate and propulsive as it explores the modern world and why it’s in the real relationships we gather rather than the superficial ones we yearn for in our technologically advanced world that are what make us who we are, and that those we meet along the way have an empathy and a warmth that only true human contact can.

If ever Foster, a constantly superb performer that doesn’t always get the credit he deserves, should be bestowed the “career-best” tag should be attributed to him it’s here. There’s a real tragedy behind Will’s eyes that seeps into your own and his previous attempts to be part of society have seen him forgotten, dealing him the cruellest of hands that have changed his life forever and Foster’s raw, honest portrayal is one easily one of the year’s best and deserves much more recognition that he may get in the months to come.

And, just as Granik did with plucking Jennifer Lawrence for Winter’s Bone (the Oscar Winner has still not bettered that performance), she again proves her magic touch and brings us McKenzie who is as extraordinary as Lawrence was back in 2010. There’s a lot of emotion on Tom’s shoulders in the film as she begins to questions her life and her father’s true reasons for his life choices as well as her own yearnings but McKenzie excels with both wit and devasting poignancy.

One of the stand-out films of the year, Leave No Trace is a reminder of both the power of cinema and of people and if ever we needed one that the world is full of beauty and wonder, no matter what hand you’re dealt.

Scott J.Davis | [rating=5]

Drama | USA, 2018 | 15 | 31st June 2018 (UK) | Sony Pictures Releasing | Sundance London | Dir.Debra Granik | Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie, Ben Foster, Jeff Kober, Dale Dickey |[Buy Tickets]