It’s been eight years since Debra Granik made her unflinching breakout, Winter’s Bone. But it turns out that the follow-up, Leave No Trace, was worth the wait. It’s a slower (at times probably too slow) and more contemplative movie than its predecessor, but it’s no less haunting, thanks to unshakable performances from Ben Foster and Thomasin McKenzie.
The two actors play a father and daughter who live on the margins of society, foraging and squatting in the woods outside Portland, Oregon. They make occasional trips into town to buy groceries and visit a VA hospital, where Foster’s combat veteran Will receives meds for PTSD, which he then sells to the homeless in a tent city. Unlike those poor souls, Will’s off-the-grid existence is a choice — he wants nothing to do with the outside world. After the pair are nearly separated by social services, they find refuge in a woodsy commune in Washington, where McKenzie’s Tom realizes she wants to finally put down some roots.
Granik doesn’t spell out the connection between these characters. She doesn’t have to. You feel it. Tom and Will’s fraying bond is as inevitable as that between any parent and child. But when things finally come to a head, the moment arrives with a quiet grace. B+