Starring: Ben Foster, Thomasin McKenzie, Dale Dickey
Directed by: Debra Granik (“Winter’s Bone”)
Written by: Debra Granik (“Winter’s Bone”) and Anne Rosellini (“Winter’s Bone”)
There’s something very intriguing about watching an individual taking on Mother Nature with little at their disposal. That’s probably why the Discovery Channel’s critically acclaimed reality series “Naked and Afraid” is currently in its ninth season.
In cinematic form, these stories work best when there is an intimate narrative attached to those characters hoping to survive a situation they either have no control over (Tom Hanks in Castaway) or one they have undertaken on their own (Reese Witherspoon in “Wild;” Emile Hirsch in “Into the Wild”) to test themselves.
The latter is the case for military veteran and single father Will (Ben Foster) and his 13-year-old daughter Tom (Thomasin McKenzie) in the compelling drama “Leave No Trace.” Living off the grid in a nature preserve outside Portland, Oregon, Will and Tom have mastered their solitary lifestyle — sleeping in tents, foraging for food and occasionally traveling into town to buy groceries with the money Will makes by selling his unused prescription drugs to other drifters.
Not only is the father-daughter duo able to live off the earth, they also live with the mindfulness that, if not careful, someone could accidentally discover them living in the wilderness. To avoid this, they run through escape drills just in case a park ranger or random hiker gets too close to their basecamp. Their attempt to hide from the outside world ends, however, when a jogger inadvertently spots Tom and reports it. This leads to the involvement of state officials who, at first, separate Will and Tom so they can get answers about their living arrangements, but later help them find sufficient housing and adapt to a regular life.
Directed and co-written by Oscar nominee Debra Granik, who formally introduced audiences to actress Jennifer Lawrence in the deeply moving 2010 drama “Winter’s Bone,” the thought-provoking and emotionally complex film is adapted from author Peter Rock’s 2009 novel “My Abandonment.” With top-tier performances by Foster and newcomer McKenzie, Granik has captured an authentic dynamic between two characters who find themselves at an impasse with one another.
“We didn’t need to be rescued,” was the most instinctive thing Tom could have said when she and her father were discovered in the woods. But it’s amazing to watch her come into her own, experience life in a completely different way and realize that she, at least, did need to be saved.