Debra Granik has a knack for making low-key indie dramas that uncover acting talent. She previously directed Winter's Bone, which received four Oscar nominations and helped to launch Jennifer Lawrence into superstardom. And now, with Leave No Trace, she may have found another actor who has a glowing future ahead of her.
Adapted from Peter Rock's novel My Abandonment, the film chronicles a father and daughter's pursuit of a simple life in the
Fascinatingly, the film's narrative remains restrained, eschewing the need to draw in thriller elements such as those adopted in Winter's Bone. It means that on the one hand the film feels overstretched and doesn't quite hit the heights of the first beguiling twenty minutes, where we are introduced to the pair's preferred living arrangements. But then it also becomes a rewarding exploration of the father and daughter dynamic at Leave No Trace's core. Characters flit in and out of the film, as they do the central duo's life, but the film retains its focus on them throughout.
And what a terrific pair of performances the film is wrapped around. Thomasin McKenzie is a warm, natural presence, with Tom being the film's beating heart. A moment that resonates particularly is when she is taken to a rabbit grooming class, and her joy lights up the screen. She has a terrific chemistry with Ben Foster, at his best when he shies away from larger blockbusters, who plays her father. Foster is both likeable and heartbreaking as Will, deftly handling some of the film's more charged moments. Leave No Trace does not overplay the emotional stakes, often choosing to downplay them. The filmmakers do not feel the need to spoon feed the audience or manipulate them, and the film is a more rewarding watch because of this.
Granik directs sporadically, with large gaps between the release of each of her films, but when she does the results are masterful. Leave No Trace is a beautiful film, majestically shot by cinematographer Michael McDonough, who has forged a career in indie cinema. If it feels a tad overstretched, it doesn't matter, as the film benefits from a star making performance from Thomasin McKenzie. Hopefully Leave No Trace will be the film that pushes the young star on to bigger prospects.