Review: Performances make a mark in 'Leave No Trace'

Ben Foster and Thomasin McKenzie are excellent in director Debra Granik's stirring drama

Adam Graham
Detroit News Film Critic
Thomasin McKenzie (left) and Ben Foster (right) in "Leave No Trace."

A father and his teenage daughter live off the grid in "Leave No Trace," a graceful drama about parental abuse and the need for community. 

Ben Foster stars as Will, a combat veteran who chooses to live an isolated existence in the vast expanse of a wooded park in Portland, Oregon. He's joined by his daughter, 13-year-old Tom (Thomasin McKenzie), who begins to question their lifestyle as she learns more about the outside world. 

Writer-director Debra Granik (she co-authored the screenplay, based on Peter Rock's novel "My Abandonment," with Anne Rosellini), tells a simple story in a straightforward manner. She identifies with Tom, who at first is on board with her father's ideologies regarding society and the system. But after they find solace in a tiny hippie community, she begins to see the value in other people and understand the depths of her father's mental instability. 

"Leave No Trace" is a two-person show, and Foster and McKenzie are tremendous. Foster has made a career out of playing deeply intense individuals, and he signals the inner turmoil and the fear simmering inside his damaged veteran character. McKenzie, meanwhile, is a revelation, quiet and innocent, but sharp and wise beyond her years. "Leave No Trace" is the New Zealander's most significant role to date, and she leaves an impression not unlike a past Granik discovery, Jennifer Lawrence (who starred in her previous film, "Winter's Bone"). 

Like 2016's "Captain Fantastic," "Leave No Trace" brings up questions of child endangerment and irresponsible parenting. It covers difficult ground, but to say it leaves no trace would be a lie. It definitely makes its mark.

(313) 222-2284


'Leave No Trace'


Rated PG for thematic material throughout

Running time: 119 minutes