Somewhere around the midway point of Leave No Trace, you fall in love with internally tortured Will.
He’s a strong, silent man with the desire to raise his teenage daughter Tom away from the stresses and constraints of a suburban life.
The two forage for food, live in a makeshift shelter and start fires without matches. They are self-sustaining, and only use what little propane they have to cook in food emergencies.
“Let’s not waste it,” says Will, frustrated with trying to light a fire after a damp day. This is their struggle, but they’ve grown used to it. They know and love the forest.
So when park rangers and social services find them, and house them on an acreage, bureaucracy and the pain of being handled by a government PTSD-torn war veteran Will knows let him down is difficult to reconcile.
Ben Foster — of Hostiles, Hell or High Water, and 1,000 other films he was perfect in — gives a career-defining performance in this quiet, affecting role. He conveys the pain of Will with every physical subtlety he has, and will rope you right in.
But at Oscar time, I get the feeling people will instead be discussing Thomasin McKenzie, who plays his steadfast, protective 13-year-old daughter Tom.
This is one of the most affecting films in years, and the best film writer-director Debra Granik has made since she presided over Jennifer Lawrence’s first big performance in Winter’s Bone.
Leave No Trace will leave you heartbroken, unresolved and breathless, but there’s no denying it will also leave you wanting more.
It’s a transformative film that will leave you engrossed in the lives of two people you’ll feel like you’ve known for years.