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Movie Review

Movie Review: 'Leave No Trace'

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In 2004, a man and his 12-year-old daughter were discovered living in a vast park in Portland, Oregon. They’d apparently been living there for four years, in a makeshift shelter with a garden, the man teaching his daughter from old encyclopedias. The two were relocated to a house on a horse farm, disappeared five days later, and were never seen again.

The writer Peter Rock took this story and imagined what might have happened to the two, and the book he wrote has been turned into the new movie Leave No Trace.

This is director Debra Granik’s first fiction feature since the astounding 2010 movie Winter’s Bone, and it’s been worth the wait. The movie follows the father and daughter as they’re discovered, and on their journey after. It gives us little in the way of exposition, so we’re left to piece together ourselves just why they’ve decided to live their lives this way.

Or, rather, why the father has decided they’ll live their lives this way. His daughter does not complain: She loves her father and wants to be with him. But parents inadvertently and inescapably graft their own struggles onto their children, and here that plays out in a tangible and physical way. Even so, it becomes clear that the girl is not her father, and at some point this is a reality that must be reconciled.

The craft of the movie is stunning, with the reverence it shows for the natural beauty of the Pacific Northwest, and a pace that allows us time to try to understand what is happening, but that also gives every scene a feeling that something very, very wrong is lurking just around the corner—a feeling that must reflect the unease the father constantly experiences, and the instability of the girl’s life.

Ben Foster is excellent as the father, but the true revelation here is Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie as the daughter. Debra Granik gave Jennifer Lawrence her big break with Winter’s Bone, and there’s a very good chance she’s done the same here with McKenzie. I don’t know if Oscar will remember this movie and this actress by the time nominations roll around, but they’re as deserving as anything I’ve seen this year.