Leave No Trace Movie Review
One of the best and most serious dramas of the year also delivers the year’s funniest scene. Halfway through Leave No Trace, after Will (Ben Foster) and his daughter Tom (Thomasin McKenzie) are ripped from their idyllic camp in the middle of the forest and placed, at least temporarily, in society, they witness a group of elderly religious women performing a ribbon ceremony that rivals the Will Ferrell interpretative dance scene in Old School. It had me crying-laughing in my seat.
If writer/director Debra Granik were for some unknown, horrible reason read this review, she’d probably say out loud, “Why the fuck is this awful writer comparing my movie to Old School?”
Originality, dear Debra. Originality. No one said it had to be good originality.
Speaking of originality, Leave No Trace bears plenty of similarities to the 2016 Viggo Mortensen drama Captain Fantastic, a critically acclaimed film about a man and his children who live off nature until they are forced back into society by outside forces. And yet Leave No Trace is undeniably different and undoubtedly better, a more emotionally powerful and immersive tale that is less an examination of which way to live is the best way and more a character study of two similar but different individuals.
Foster, as a psychologically damaged war veteran, delivers yet another powerhouse performance (get this man an Oscar already, or at least a nomination!), but it is young McKenzie who steals the show with her quiet, emotion-filled turn. She’s absolutely incredible.
The movie itself is stellar as well. Granik sucks you in from the beginning, introducing two fully realized characters. The story feels organic and grounded, Granik’s attention to detail but also reliance on and trust in her actors on full display.
Leave No Trace is easily one of the best movies of the year so far, a superbly acted, expertly written character study that works on every level. And, for one scene, it will make you laugh out loud. They probably won’t put that quote on the movie poster.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.