Leave No Trace (2018)


Critic Consensus: Leave No Trace takes an effectively low-key approach to a potentially sensationalistic story -- and further benefits from brilliant work by Ben Foster and Thomasin McKenzie.


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Will (Ben Foster) and his teenage daughter, Tom (Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie), have lived off the grid for years in the forests of Portland, Oregon. When their idyllic life is shattered, both are put into social services. After clashing with their new surroundings, Will and Tom set off on a harrowing journey back to their wild homeland. The film is directed by Debra Granik from a script adapted by Granik and Anne Rosellini.

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Critic Reviews for Leave No Trace

All Critics (211) | Top Critics (39)

Occasionally uplifting and sometimes heartbreaking, it is nothing less than sublime.

Jul 23, 2018 | Rating: 3.5/4 | Full Review…

Debra Granik directs with a touch that's as gentle on the audience as bees are to Tom. There is not a move, cut, sound, or deliberate stretch of silence that in some way doesn't advance and inform the plot.

Jul 13, 2018 | Rating: 5/5 | Full Review…

It covers difficult ground, but to say it leaves no trace would be a lie. It definitely makes its mark.

Jul 13, 2018 | Rating: B+ | Full Review…

Leave No Trace might be described in social terms as a film about homelessness, but it never loses sight of the fact that what makes a home is the privacy people need to connect with each other.

Jul 11, 2018 | Rating: 4/5 | Full Review…

Leave No Trace is one of the best films of 2018 and promises to make a star of McKenzie.

Jul 8, 2018 | Full Review…

[Thomasin McKenzie] is a massive find. There is such wisdom in her presence...You can feel her seeing everything and taking it all in. There's such a naturalism to the way she responds in every single situation.

Jul 6, 2018 | Rating: 9/10 | Full Review…

Audience Reviews for Leave No Trace

Almost like a heartwarming answer to the bleak brutality of Winter's Bone, here is a delicate and touching daughter-father drama whose main strength comes from the complexity of its characters, who behave like real-life people do and are brilliantly played by Thomasin McKenzie and Ben Foster.

Carlos Magalhães
Carlos Magalhães

Super Reviewer


"Where's your home?" "With my dad." Without structure there is chaos, but with too stringent a structure there is no inner peace. Some people can manage the chaos as long as they retain their inner peace. Ben Foster's Will is one of those people. Will is a veteran whose background has taught him to deal with the chaos around him, but in adapting to this chaos and feeding his inner peace as needed he is unable to adapt back into the society he's seemingly sacrificed so much to sustain. It's a hell of a conflict made even more complicated by the presence of Will's daughter, Tom (newcomer Thomasin McKenzie who will no doubt have her own franchise by next Spring), who is coming of age herself and coming to terms with the fact her father's life doesn't have to be her life. "Leave No Trace" both explores the two human beings at the center of itself as well as the systems in place they both rebel against and embrace. Written and directed by Debra Granik (Winter's Bone) as based on Peter Rock's novel, "My Abandonment", the film is essentially about a young girl learning to carve her own path and find her own home. Granik is keen on her characters; making them and by default, Foster and McKenzie's wonderful performances, the highlight of her film. Despite his inability to adapt or unwillingness to try Will loves his daughter more than anything and vice versa. Tom may not want to continue down the same path as her father, but she respects him and the life he's provided for her thus far more than anything. Granik paints this portrait of want versus need once again through the details of her piece. The first time the film cuts to Will and Tom in modern society after being reunited after having been arrested for living on public land we hear a traffic report on the radio about congested areas hinting at the mundaneness of societal life. Granik sprinkles in the presence of the American flag throughout-a symbol that no doubt has come to be little more than that. We see Will trying to adapt in taking a job at a Christmas tree farm where he can't seem to hold himself together the minute he hears the sound of the helicopter swooping in to drop off trees from deep in the woods. Another scene where Will teaches his daughter how to ride a bike hints at what could have been, but alas-is not able to last. It is all very heartbreaking yet extremely humble in its execution. The first activity we see/hear Tom and her father partaking in together is that of humming "You Are My Sunshine". I thought the movie had me at this moment given this is the designated song my wife always sings to our daughter, but while "Leave No Trace" is a handsomely crafted film, an exceptionally acted one, and deals with weighty topics in realistic fashion I was never as ultimately moved as I expected to be in those opening moments. There was no gut reaction despite the fact we see this shift in the dynamic between a father and daughter whose bond is said and shown to be as genuine as anything can be. Despite the fact this shift will cause a rift in an otherwise perfectly harmonious relationship and neither will be able to compromise enough for the other. Despite all of this I wasn't moved like I felt I should have been. That doesn't mean the end product isn't effective, but more I wasn't as fulfilled by the story as others might be. Still, much as Tom does in the camp ground community she and her father meet, there is solace to be found in "Leave No Trace" no matter what walk of life you come from or which path you'll be following from here on out. And if none of that sounds particularly interesting, buy a ticket for the "For His Glory" dance troupe. They're worth the price of admission alone.

Philip Price
Philip Price

Super Reviewer

WAY INTO THE WOODS - My Review of LEAVE NO TRACE (4 Stars) LEAVE NO TRACE, Debra Granik's first narrative feature since her 2010 breakout WINTER'S BONE and once again co-written with Anne Rosellini, quietly came and went earlier this year but has recently re-entered the conversation with awards season nominations. How it passed me by upon initial release I can't say, but I'm glad I finally caught up with one of the year's best films. Ben Foster plays Will, who when we first meet him, lives in the woods of a state park outside Portland with his young daughter Tom (Thomasin McKenzie). Completely off the grid, they live in a tent filled with rudimentary supplies, hunting and cooking mushrooms or opening a can of soup, and sometimes venture into the city to sell Will's medications to drug dealers allowing them to purchase more supplies. With spare dialogue and astute visuals, the film slowly reveals why they've chosen this way of living. Of course, the movie wouldn't work unless obstacles and disruptions punctured their isolated existence, and when they come, it's unnervingly yet quietly suspenseful. While Will needs to live this way, Tom isn't so sure. She clearly loves and cares for her father, but she also feels drawn to the comforts of a permanent home and interactions with other people. What makes this story so memorable is the undying respect she has for Will. Lesser filmmakers and actors would have portrayed Tom as an eye-rolling, sullen teen who "But Dad's" her way through the story. McKenzie, a real find, has such poise and grace, communicating complex and contradictory feelings with a glance or humane patience with her emotionally unstable father. Foster, no stranger to these types of roles, finds the empathetic core of his character, fully convincing us that his desire to have nothing to do with other people isn't such a bad choice. It's one of his finest performances, and I thought he had topped himself with HELL OR HIGH WATER. Looking at the current situation in our country, a part of me longed to escape the way he does, but I'm not sure I could deal with the rain and the bugs. I guess being an armchair SURVIVOR viewer will have to satisfy that craving. Like WINTER'S BONE, Granik has a clear feel for rustic environments and the ability to find excitement in the quietest of moments. Spare filmmaking of this quality seems harder to pull off than a dozen superhero movies. She doesn't need people shouting at each other or big action set pieces to serve as conflict. She finds it within two very special characters who, though at cross purposes, use that rarest of attributes, kindness, to get their points across. It's sustained all the way through to its heartbreaking, devastating, but just right ending.

Glenn Gaylord
Glenn Gaylord

Super Reviewer


From director Debra Granik who made 2010's 'Winter's Bone', returns with another superb effort that's every bit as stunning and endearing as critics from all across the world are saying it is. Focusing on a very human story of a father and his beloved daughter living away from the confines and traditions of society, possibly due to his past trauma and uncomfortable mentality of being a former war veteran. A film like this mesmerizes us within the beautiful confines of the Oregon rain forests, whilst encompassing us within the drama conflicting with both Ben Foster and newcomer; Thomasin McKenzie's outstanding performances, that truly make this film to watch out for. Granik is also hugely capable of making a unique American setting stand out with such vigor and grace within it's naturalistic features and feel, especially for it's minor performers too, that work exceptionally well along with the leads. Definitely one of 2018's finest.

Luke Eberhardt
Luke Eberhardt

Super Reviewer

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