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LEAVE NO TRACE: ONE OF THIS YEAR’S BEST

Debra Granik is an exceptional filmmaker. Her output is small but each film is resolute and genuine. Her latest, Leave No Trace, maintains the high standards she set with Down to the Bone, which introduced us to Vera Farmiga, and Winter’s Bone, which served as a launch pad for Jennifer Lawrence.

The known quantity in this harsh drama is Ben Foster, who gives a great performance as a shattered veteran who is raising his teenage daughter in the woods of the Pacific Northwest, hiding from “civilization.” He loves her but, if you will pardon the pun, he can no longer see the forest for the trees. A social worker makes a sincere effort to help them but Foster is beyond rational behavior and trusts no one—least of all a representative of the government. His daughter doesn’t agree with all of her dad’s decisions but is inextricably linked to him. This does not foretell a happy ending.

Newcomer Thomasin McKenzie matches Foster’s searing honesty, which enables Granik to craft an organically believable drama, filled with keen observations and inevitable heartache. Dale Dickey (terrific, as usual) plays a rugged individualist who helps both father and daughter when they need it most.

Granik and longtime writing partner Anne Rosellini based their screenplay on a novel by Peter Rock. There isn’t a false moment in the picture, which has become their hallmark. I wish more filmmakers would adopt their intimate but  unshowy approach to storytelling. Leave No Trace is one of the best films I’ve seen this year.

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at leonardmaltin.com. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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September 2018
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