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Review: Leave No Trace is engrossing drama from the backwoods

PUBLISHED: 08:34 29 June 2018 | UPDATED: 08:34 29 June 2018

Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie as Tom and Ben Foster as Will in Leave No Trace. Photo: CTMG, Inc

Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie as Tom and Ben Foster as Will in Leave No Trace. Photo: CTMG, Inc

Archant

Adapted from Peter Rock’s novel by Winter’s Bone director Debra Granik and screenwriting partner Anne Rosellini, this is a restrained portrait of the indomitable spirit of backwoods communities through the eyes of a teenage girl and her fiercely protective father.

Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie as Tom and Ben Foster as Will in Leave No Trace. Photo: CTMG, IncThomasin Harcourt McKenzie as Tom and Ben Foster as Will in Leave No Trace. Photo: CTMG, Inc

Leave No Trace (PG)

***

The varied and majestic wonders of the American landscape is always assumed to have underpinned the great 20th century American success story, both through the resources it provided and the confidence it engendered in the American character.

If they could tame that hostile expanse, then there were no limits to what could be achieved. Now however that vast unpopulated terrain provides ample hiding space for the angry and broken to get away in isolated communities

Though it isn’t any kind of Scenery Film, the lure of the American landscape fuels this film. It is so strong it becomes a kind of poison.

Will (Ben Foster) is a veteran living out in the woods with his 13-year-old daughter Tom (Thomasin McKenzie.) They aren’t disturbing anyone but once uncovered, Big Government won’t leave them be. Can Will adapt to the civilised life, once his daughter gets a taste for stability and a roof over her head

Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie as Tom in Leave No Trace. Photo: CTMG, IncThomasin Harcourt McKenzie as Tom in Leave No Trace. Photo: CTMG, Inc

Debra Granik’s previous feature, Winter’s Bone, was an improbable launch pad for Jennifer Lawrence to become a global superstar (and an Oscar nominee) but her, belated, follow up is surely too subdued, too honest, and too damn good to be launching anyone onto stardom.

It’s something don’t see too often: an engrossing drama without a single raised voice. Some loud dog barking is the closest you get too emoting.

It’s always the quiet ones. Right from the start, the film has you. You’ll be held by a need to find out more about these two people and a faith that wherever the film takes you, it won’t be a letdown.

I’m not sure what it is about the film or the script by Granik and her usual collaborator Anne Rossellini but it is so very easy to place your trust in it. If they ever turned their hand to con artistry they’d clear out your bank account and you might not even complain. The film ultimately rests on its two leads, they are the only constants, and they are both discreetly exceptional.

I will say no more. It’s out there waiting for you to discover it.

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