Leave No Trace
Runtime 107 minutes
Director Debra Granik’s last film was the surprise stunner Winter’s Bone (2010) that introduced the world to Jennifer Lawrence as a backwoods girl. She’s finally back with her next film that is based on Peter Rock’s novel, My Abandonment, with a script adapted by Granik and Oscar-nominee Anne Roselinni.
Once again Granik is in the mountains. This time she introduces us to Thomasin McKenzie in her debut, and all she does is give a performance that is the equal of the aforementioned Ms. Lawrence.
She lives with her father (Ben Foster) in the forest of a National Park when they are captured and forced to live in civilization. Rock based his book on a true story of a man and his daughter who had been living in a nature preserve outside of Portland, Oregon for four years. They only entered Portland to collect his disability checks and shop for what they couldn’t grow. The girl was healthy, well cared for, and tested academically above her age group. Then they disappeared. Rock was fascinated by the enigmatic tale, and fictionalized it by delving into what was unknown.
McKenzie and Foster capture the love between father and daughter, the trust that she puts in him, and the strains that can be created as the daughter grows and matures. It’s a very sweet and touching relationship.
The acting is superb, and not only McKenzie and Foster. The entire cast is exceptional. For what it is, the pace is outstanding.
The film is bolstered by beautiful cinematography (Michael McDonough) of the forest locations, but what really makes the film crack are the production design (Chad Keith) and art direction (Jonathan Guggenheim) because the locales are spectacular. Especially intriguing is the last location of a small group of mountain-livers. This was filmed in the community of Squaw Mountain, an old logging camp that is now an outsider enclave nestled in a remote Oregon glen. Says Granik, “It was a gem of a location filled with idiosyncrasies and anthropological details. You can’t tell from the film, but the glen is literally the last group of trees standing. The timber companies have removed the forest surrounding the camp. There’s no more windbreak and the trees in the camp are blowing down because everything else for miles has been taken out.”
I said at the beginning that Winter’s Bone was a surprise stunner. So is this. Granik needs to make more than one film every eight years.