Based on the novel MY ABANDONMENT by Peter Rock that in turn fictionalized a true account, LEAVE NO TRACE (2018) was a real gem for me. It’s the most reviewed film to have a 100% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and it earns it by telling a simple, powerful, and affecting story.
The story is about Will, a military veteran father (Ben Foster) with severe PTSD, who lives with his teenage daughter Tom (Thomasin McKenzie) in a heavily forested Portland park. When they’re discovered by a jogger, rangers come to take them out, and the police bring in social services to help.
Social services places them in a home on a Christmas tree farm. Tom likes it, but Will can’t handle it. Soon, they have to leave again, calling into question whether Will can ever live with people again and what Tom considers home.
What a powerful film. Everything about it is understated and natural. The directing is almost perfect, showing real life in a way that is dramatically compelling. The writers take zero shortcuts and don’t force any dramatic twists or plot points, relying on the loving, loyal chemistry between father and daughter and how their separate needs begin to pull them apart. The focus is always on the central conflict of Will versus the world, and Tom increasingly versus Will. As for what we see of the world, there is a beautiful focus on small-town life, plain folks doing their thing and offering help and a society that is actually warm and welcoming but can’t be accepted. It all courses to a conclusion that is inevitable, moving, and satisfying.
I highly recommend this one and hope Hollywood takes note.