Leave No Trace, rated PG
Leave No Trace is a well-acted, written and directed PG rated film about an Iraq War veteran and his daughter. The film is directed by Oscar nominee Debra Granik (Winter’s Bone). The screenplay is written by Granik and two-time Oscar nominee Anne Rosellini (Winter’s Bone) based on the novel My Abandonment by Peter Rock. The film has the rare distinction of having a 100% rating from critics on the movie review site RottenTomatoes.com.
Will, played by Ben Foster (Hell or High Water) and his teenage (13 or 14-year-old) daughter Tom, played by Thomasin McKenzie, are homeless and live in a heavily wooded government owned park outside of Portland, Oregon. They live primitively, sharing a tent, collecting rain water to drink and growing their own vegetables. Will’s wife has apparently died, though we are not told anything about her, just that Tom misses her. In fact, we are not told any of Will and Tom’s backstory (how did they become homeless and for how long?) Will is a veteran who suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). He gets meds for the PTSD from the Veteran’s hospital, but sells the meds to others who live in the park, using the money to purchase groceries. Will has raised Tom to be a kind, polite and thoughtful girl who is self-sufficient.
All is going well until Tom is spotted by someone in the park who reports the sighting to authorities. Will and Tom are forcibly removed from the park, and taken for separate social service questioning and psychological testing. Tom tests above her grade level, having been taught by her father.
After a while, Will and Tom are reunited and set up in a nice home by social services in exchange for Will working on the owner’s Christmas tree farm. During this time Tom begins to blossom. She meets a boy and talks to him about his rabbit, joins him at a 4-H event, and starts attending school. But Will, who doesn’t talk much, is never comfortable there, and obviously needs the medicine that was prescribed for his PTSD. He finally tells Tom to gather up her belongings in her backpack and off they go. We see them riding in an empty freight train car, and later hitching a ride with a kind truck driver as they head into the state of Washington where it is much colder.
Themes in the film include homelessness, survival, the relationship between a father and his daughter, kindness, and helping others in need.
The film features a strong, and perhaps Oscar worthy, acting performance by Foster as Will and an incredible Oscar worthy performance by McKenzie as Tom. The film is beautifully shot, particularly the forest scenes, by cinematographer Michael McDonough.
Leave No Trace is a well-made gripping film based on a novel about an Iraq war veteran suffering from PTSD and his daughter who are homeless in the northwest. Although rated PG, the film will not be of interest for viewers under age 12.