Leave No Trace is an intimate and heartfelt yet bitterly honest portrait of two peoples living literally on the edge. Settled off-grid in Portland, Oregon’s National Park, we are introduced to a quaint, humble life we can’t help but admire. So, when government interference forces a father and daughter into the confines of paperwork and social media, we become enthralled in the same suppressed frustration as the characters do.
Director Debra Granik perfectly paints a grounded, sincere portrayal with cinematic skill. Moving yet unflinching in its broken depiction of America, Granik masterfully contrasts the beautiful naturalistic landscapes against the noisy concreted motorways. Ben Foster gives a touching performance as a widowed father plagued with PTSD. However, its young actress Thomasin McKenzie that is the most remarkable for her subtlety powerful depiction of Tom. Grappling between a secluded life with her father or living within a materialised community, Tom remains both gentle and sympathetic, yet impeccably strong willed. It is truly their performance that propels this story forward (with no forced or overused dialogue).
An admirable humility surrounds this indie flick, with its roots in a true story. Based on the 2007 novel My Abandonment by Peter Rock, the astounding tale is very loosely based on a true account of a twelve-year-old girl found living in Forest Park with her veteran father. Perhaps this is why the film manages to truly rile audiences up against the meddling ‘social services’. Because it’s believable that a perfectly happy, self-sufficient family should be forced into paying taxes for a home they don’t want. But experiencing the storyline through Tom’s eyes, we know they are also partly right. Company, friendship and a sense of community is important. A message ingrained by Ganrik, causing conflicted emotions in both the characters and subsequently their audience.
The cleverly manifested aggravation we mirror from Tom and her dad is comparable to that of Ken Loach’s political drama I, Daniel Blake (2016). Similarly an independent movie that stormed to acclaim, if you enjoyed the heart-breaking honesty of Louch’s political drama you will certainly appreciate Ganriks. Consider Leave No Trace to be a Captain Fantastic (dir. Matt Ross, 2016) in plotline, but without the sugar-coated sentimentality. Just pure, honest cinema.