Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Leave No Trace

★★★★★ - A Review by Cameron Kanachki

Our past is what drives us. It drives us to be better, to do what needs to be done, to keep moving forward. But it may end up being what holds us back. And if so, what does that mean for the people around us?

Leave No Trace explores that idea in the most intimate way I've ever seen, & is one of the most beautiful & touching films of the year. Based on the 2009 book My Abandonment by Peter Rock, the film follows Will (played by Ben Foster), a former veteran of an unknown war (presumably Iraq or Afghanistan) living in a park in Portland with his 13-year-old daughter, Tom (played by Thomasin McKenzie). Their existence is very isolated, & Will has taught Tom more advanced stuff when it comes to academics, along with many survival skills. Most nights, Will suffers from nightmares as a result of his PTSD from the war.

One day, Tom accidentally draws attention to a jogger, who alerts the authorities. They arrive soon after, placing Will & Tom into social services. After some tests are done, they are placed into a home in rural Oregon, & Will gets a job cutting Christmas trees. They attempt to adapt to this lifestyle, as Tom begins to start school & learn social skills. But the process of adapting to their new environment proves to be much harder than they imagined.

The cast is amazing. Ben Foster shows once again that he is a force to be reckoned with & has been for a long time. His performance is very nuanced & compassionate, & is easily his best performance. And Thomasin McKenzie gives the best breakout performance of the year so far. At 17, she is wise beyond her years, & has the talents of an actress with much more experience than her. Her performance is one of a more adult power, as her character had to grow up very fast, & had to take on more of an adult role in the family. I have no doubt that she will go very far in the years to come.

Debra Granik's direction is excellent. Granik, notable for her 2010 film Winter's Bone, takes a very low-key & nuanced approach here. She handles the film with such gentle care & affection, making the film into a quiet, immersive experience.

The screenplay by Debra Granik & Anne Rosselini is fantastic. The film stays very true to the book, & the characters & dialogue feel so incredibly realistic. But the greatest thing about the screenplay are its themes of living in isolation. You could compare this film to 2016's Captain Fantastic, which also dealt with people living in isolation. However, although I did like Captain Fantastic, it was flawed, mainly in its reasoning for the people living in isolation. In Captain Fantastic, the characters lived in isolation because they were anarchists who hated modern society, & they felt so shallow at times, & it felt pretty unrealistic at times. However, the reasoning for the characters living in isolation in here felt more realistic & the characters feel more compassionate. As Ben Foster's character couldn't adapt to society after the war, he decided to live in isolation, as it was the only thing that gave him comfort. And his daughter adapted to it as well. This reasoning felt more realistic than Captain Fantastic's reasoning.

Michael McDonough's cinematography is astonishing. The color palette is gorgeous, & the camerawork is very intimate.

Jane Rizzo's editing is terrific. It's very seamless in its style, as the film is very well-assembled, & the pacing is very well-done.

And Dickon Hinchcliffe's score is superb. The score is very quiet & intimate, buoyed by violins & acoustic guitars.

This is one of the best films of the year. It's a quiet, touching & altogether masterful film powered by its two lead performances.

Leave No Trace was seen by me at the MJR Troy Grand Digital Cinema 16 in Troy, MI on Friday, July 13, 2018. It is currently in 4 theaters in the Detroit area: the MJR Troy Grand Digital Cinema 16 in Troy, MI; the Landmark Main Art Theatre in Royal Oak, MI; the Birmingham Theatre in Birmingham, MI; & the Emagine Novi in Novi, MI. Its runtime is 109 minutes, & it is rated PG for thematic material throughout.

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