Leave No Trace
Few little moments in film are as endearing as when you watch Mr. Foster and Ms. McKenzie click their tongues twice at each other to say “I love you.”
Let me begin by saying that Leave No Trace is a profoundly simple film that moves very, very slowly. However, even though it lacks the depth of last year’s Captain Fantastic where Vigo Mortensen received an Oscar nomination, Leave No Trace joins it in finding a way to tug at your heart.
Ben Foster, fresh off his performance in last year’s acclaimed Hell or High Water, plays Will, an Army veteran with PTSD who can’t tolerate any form of civilization. In the process, he just wants to live in a national forest near Portland with Tom, his loving teenage daughter.
While you never learn the cause of Will’s PTSD, the story line makes that issue irrelevant. Will and Tom form a team where they use their limited resources to live as campers. They will occasionally venture into a local town but stay only long enough to buy some necessary supplies.
Given that living in a national forest is forbidden by law, the authorities soon hunt down our father and daughter, placing them in a small facility while they try to learn if Will is dangerous to anyone else, including his daughter. Becoming frantic in the process, our small family only stays long enough where they can flee back into the forest, this time journeying farther north to try to avoid capture.
The film is directed and co-written by Debra Granik, who previously brought us Winter’s Bone, a movie that made Jennifer Lawrence a star. Along that same line, you have to wonder if this film will give Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie the momentum to follow in Ms. Lawrence’s footsteps.
Ms. McKenzie dominates Trace as a young girl completely dedicated to being with her father and helping him survive. She exhibits no regrets about leaving the real world, and the movie’s principal weakness surrounds the question as to why she would voluntarily join her father to live like a modern-day cave woman without regret.
While the other film’s supporting characters have very small roles, both Dale Dickey and Dana Millican stand out as two women dedicated to helping Ms. McKenzie’s Tom find a way back into the real world. Ms. Millican appears first as Jean Bauer, a woman working for the government who tries to make Tom feel comfortable after being removed from the forest.
Ms. Dickey appears later as Dale, a woman running a camp where travel trailers are for rent. It was here that father and daughter find refuge after dad suffers a terrible leg injury. In the process, Ms. Dickey finds a way to allow Tom to experience the advantages of forming human relationships, and you know that sooner or later these two lovable souls are going to have to part in each other’s best interest.
While the film avoids any reference concerning the treatment of our military veterans, the reality leaps from the screen at every turn. While our V.A. hospitals continue to treat veterans as second class citizens, we see them sanctimoniously honored by organizations seeking contributions and politicians who pretend to care.
People like Will return home from experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan with profound emotional difficulties, and they deserve much more attention than they are receiving from our national government. Foster’s Will was one of those poor souls suffering from an untreated trauma and he wasn’t the only one who didn’t receive it.
Until something is done to correct this stain on our country, all veterans should take a knee during our National Anthem.