It’s 1999 and a father and his teenage daughter live off the grid in the Forest Park, a beautiful nature reserve near Portland, Oregon. Why are they living in such a primitive fashion? Like Captain Fantastic (2016) where a father raises his children away from civilization, My Abandonment (2009)–the book Leave No Trace is based on–critiques American society by contrasting the stripped-down Life this father and young daughter live while surrounded by a materialistic society.
Director Debra Granik made the surprising Winter’s Bone eight years ago which was based on Daniel Woodrell’s 2006 novel of the same name. Winter’s Bone launched the career of Jennifer Lawrence and Leave No Trace will supercharge the careers of Ben Foster and Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie.
Ben Foster plays his role of Will, a veteran with “problems,” in a quiet, understated fashion with intensity. Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie, the New Zealand phenom who plays Tom, adores her father and wants to protect him. Debra Granik and her co-screenwriter Anne Rosellini follow the plotline of My Abandonment for about two-thirds of the movie. Then, they make a strategic decision to change the ending. The novel’s ending is darker while the movie’s ending is more hopeful. Both work. Michael McDonough’s cinematography is stunning. GRADE: A-