Leave No Trace - Movie Reviews - Rotten Tomatoes

Leave No Trace Reviews

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February 23, 2019
Amazing film. Slowly unfolding story, all in the relationship between father and daughter. Brilliantly acted.
February 23, 2019
If Captain Fantastic wasn‚(TM)t an overly preachy and inauthentic indie-fart. Foster is always great and under-appreciated, but McKenzie‚¶she‚(TM)s impossibly perfect. So endearing and heartbreaking. When she‚(TM)s showing her dad the beehive, how you can feel the warmth of the hive-community‚¶it‚(TM)s incredible. Great little study of both the good and the bad of the western status quo.
February 21, 2019
10/10 Slow, sad, and extremely rewarding, with great performances from Ben Foster and Thomasin McKenzie.
½ February 19, 2019
Granik‚(TM)s grittiness and Foster‚(TM)s powerhouse talent don‚(TM)t leaven this intriguing and beautifully shot but disappointing film.
½ February 16, 2019
Absolutely beautiful
February 14, 2019
Leave No Trace finds Will and his daughter Tom living in the forests of Oregon, completely off grid for an undisclosed length of time. Will is ex army and an expert at covering his tracks and Tom has come to accept the life her father has created for her. Eventually they are discovered by the authorities and forced to abandon their home to reintegrate themselves into society. With each new experience Will finds himself feeling more and more uncomfortable, longing for the simple life he had become accustomed to while his daughter discovers new friends and experiences, slowly warming to the outside world. As two ideals begin to clash, as one wishes to disappear while the other wants to be noticed they drift apart and must decide what kind of world they wish to live in.
It's a thought provoking story exploring what home and family truly means. Both leads are strong and the film is beautifully shot.
February 11, 2019
Mesmerising, despite the lack of 'set pieces' and much in the way of conventional plotting, this beautifully modulated film starts as a survivalist eco-thriller but soon reveals itself as a portrait of grief and loss. Terrence Malick's Badlands is the closest analogy, both tonally and in the way Nature is foregrounded.
½ February 10, 2019
Deeply respectful of its subject

In Walden, his 1854 memoir/philosophical treatise, Henry David Thoreau chronicles a period of two years, two months and two days during which time he lived alone in a small cabin he himself had built in the forest near Walden Pond, Massachusetts, on property owned by his mentor and friend, Ralph Waldo Emerson. Inspired by the tenets of transcendentalism, of especial importance to Thoreau was "Self-Reliance", an 1841 essay by Emerson, which argues that an individual must avoid conformity, follow their own ideas and concepts, and trust in their own instincts, if they are to attain a deeper understanding of the nature of existence. In Walden, Thoreau was putting this concept to the test, isolating himself from civil society, and existing in nature with only the barest means of subsistence.

Walden went on to become one of the (many) foundational texts of libertarianism, the core principles of which are the valuation of personal liberty above all else, and the encouragement of scepticism towards authority in general, and the state/government in particular. Today, the two main strands are (the imaginatively named) left-libertarianism and right-libertarianism. The left advocates for the abolition of capitalism and private ownership of the means of production, arguing that natural resources must be either unowned or owned collectively by "the People", whilst the right calls for the abolition of the welfare state, and argues that individuals not only have a right to own property, but are morally obliged to do so.

All of which brings us to Debra Granik's Leave no Trace, which could, perhaps, be described as a darker version of Captain Fantastic. Will (Ben Foster), a veteran suffering from PTSD, is living off the grid with his daughter Tom (Thomasin McKenzie), making their home in a national park in Portland, Oregon. There, they embody many of the concepts underpinning Emerson's notions of self-reliance; individual authority, nonconformity, solitude, internal self-truth, with Will especially valuing freedom of thought. However, when a jogger sees Tom, park wardens are dispatched to track them down, and social services open an investigation into their situation. Will is aghast, resenting the infringement upon his autonomy, recalling Iain King's statement that "autonomy should only be infringed if a person is unable to know their own interests on a particular matter". This certainly isn't the case with Will, and he sees no reason why he and Tom shouldn't be allowed to continue to live in their own way.

None of the philosophical theories outlined above are explicitly mentioned anywhere in the film. However, knowledge of them definitely helps one to more easily understand Will. Whether Granik or her co-screenwriter Annie Rosellini are even aware of these concepts is beside the point, as they serve to give one a more assured theoretical entry point into a not easily penetrated film.

On a less theoretical note, the film does a lot that on paper would seem to be wrong; for long stretches of time, there is no real sense of any kind of standard Aristotelian conflict, as we simply observe Will and Tom going about their day. In tandem with this, the film is extremely light on plot, incident, and tangible character development, focusing instead on mood and tone, and calling upon the actors to externalise their emotions through action and expression rather than dialogue. Obviously, this means almost everything hinges on the quality of the performances and the believability of the bond between the characters. Thankfully, both Foster and McKenzie are exceptional; he plays Will as someone who has seen the darker side of humanity and has no time for frivolousness, whereas she plays Tom as someone desperate to have a childhood, but who also wants to make her father proud. In one particularly telling scene, when they must leave on a moment's notice, he tells her to pack only what is essential, and she places a toy horse in her backpack, but only after she has wrapped it up so Will can't see it, an action which tells us a great deal about both characters.

The film's pacing is both its greatest asset, and its biggest flaw. To speed things up would have compromised the tone. However, this kind of methodical pacing is likely to alienate a lot of viewers, who will undoubtedly criticise the film as boring, and its focus on Will and Tom to the exclusion of almost everything else as too narrow. When it does branch out, it is only insofar as to show how the two main characters are affected. What's especially interesting about the story, however, is that the narrative seems predicated on the transcendentalist notion of the inherent goodness of people; pretty much everyone Will and Tom encounter is trying to do right by them. In the end, what the film gives us is a deeply respectful portraiture of a man trying to make the best of it in the only way he knows how. A fine film.
February 8, 2019
Captain fantastic with an excruciatingly light touch and the weight of tragic destiny.
February 6, 2019
The story and the acting are top notch....catches you early and does not let you go.
½ February 5, 2019
Well crafted tale of survival and separation by a director/screenwriter and actors who know and apply their craft. Could of been a best realistic picture had they included just one unkind character in the story.
February 4, 2019
I took a bath in the middle of the movie. I didn't seem to miss much. The trailer about sums it up.
½ February 4, 2019
This movie was very bizarre and boring! This movie could've been pretty good, but it was awful!! And it was way too long for this kind of movie!! Don't waste your money on it!!
January 31, 2019
Strengths: With the second most reviews ever for a movie at 100% on Rotten Tomatoes, this had to have done something right. Debra Granik perfectly captures the mood in this one. She was behind Winter‚(TM)s Bone, which had a similar vibe and it‚(TM)s clearly her strong suit. She nails all the little things to make this feel authentic. From every small character moment to how the camera is placed in key moments. They paid attention to detail and it pays off throughout the film. Ben Foster (Will) is fantastic as the lead. It feels like a role tailor made for him if you pay attention to his career. He handles the slightly unhinged, paranoid, yet loving father role with great care. The breakout star is Thomasin McKenzie (Tom). She‚(TM)s barely 18, yet she more than matches Foster‚(TM)s great work. It‚(TM)s the best performance by a young actor in 2018 along with Elsie Fisher. We watch her grow up and go through a lot before figuring out her place. When she has to say goodbye in the end, it‚(TM)s heartbreaking but somehow also heartwarming.

Weaknesses: This is not the kind of movie for everyone. It is slow paced and there‚(TM)s not a lot in terms of excitement. That can be unappealing for many. There‚(TM)s also a few moments where it feels the filmmakers got a little too cute, adding lingering shots on nature for a bit too long. It‚(TM)s nitpicky, but it does bother a little.

Overall: One of the best films of 2018. It treats its audience with respect, tells an emotional story dealing with serious issues, and features incredible acting from the two leads. An overlooked gem.
January 27, 2019
This was a very beautiful move, lovingly shot in the luscious Pacific northwest, juxtaposed with the stark despair of the characters as the truth of their situation becomes apparent to them. I almost cried, but not quite. The movie was really about the daughter, Tom, and her will to live and separate from her father's demons. She was wholly believable in her underplayed role. I could feel her growing older and stronger in the movie as she realized the truth of her situation and what she must do. This movie stands along as a singular tale of love and devotion. I was reminded at times of Captain Fantastic, another movie that explored how mental illness can twist and turn a family into untenable behaviors, yet once set on the path none of them can arrest the progress in the wrong direction. A tender, quiet movie, it nevertheless kept my attention, riveting in its realism and heart.
January 27, 2019
A powerful and realistic examination of living with PTSD and loving those who have it.
January 27, 2019
Loved it, we need more movies like this one!
½ January 26, 2019
A great story, however when I invest 90 minutes of my life I expect entertainment that will take me to a place other than where I am. This simple was not entertaining. Please do not watch this terrible move. One other thing, why is there such a disparity between the critics and the viewers review.
½ January 25, 2019
Good movie. Solid message. Beautiful cinematography. And this girl is a star. Awesome performance.
January 24, 2019
Taking a stripped back, minimalistic approach, thanks in no part to the fact that 40% of the dialogue from the original script was omitted, Leave No Trace is a subtly affecting story of a parent and their child. It may occasionally be too slow and Terrence Malicky for its own good, with long lingering shots on trees and branches for no other reason than they look good, but it's the performances and reliance on expression rather than words that make it so powerful. Sometimes a character will utter a short phrase, and the leads are so adept that just a few glances or movements of the head are enough to let us know what they're feeling. It's a story of letting go, of maturity and of paternal love, even if the latter can occasionally be more destructive than nurturing. The performances of Ben Foster and Thomasin McKenzie are the main reason to see it, but it's also got fantastic cinematography, touching moments and a bond that is constantly tested.
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