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.