(Check out the list so far)
The Movie: Leave No Trace (2018)
One Sentence Plot Summary: Will and Tom try to make life work in the forests of the northwest and come to an impasse that will change both of their lives.
Why It’s on the List: Although this made a lot of critics’ lists and has a 100% on Rotten Tomatoes, this is a movie that seemingly came and went in the summer of 2018 with little unfair. I can tell you that of the 101 movies I saw in this year, this was my number one and remains so for its nuanced portrayal of a soldier dealing with PTSD and how he’s still trying to do right by his daughter. I walked away thinking this would be a huge contender at the award’s shows and ended up disappointed that it got ignored. It’s a shame that it didn’t come out at the right time or wasn’t as bombastic.
Through pure happenstance, I rewatched this on Veterans’ Day 2020, and it’s a shame we don’t have more movies about what modern PTSD looks like. We pretend to honor the troops through big ceremonies and showy ceremonies, but in so many ways, we abandon the people who serve the country. Will is someone who clearly has no trust in the system and feels as though he’s been betrayed. The mom is only discussed in a cursory way. I remember thinking that I could never live the life Will does. Now? Maybe breaking away from society and living in the forest isn’t the worst idea. I envy his point of view more every day.
It would have been so easy for Will to be physically or emotionally abusive to hid daughter, to have some huge panic attack and show why he’s a terrible parent. People continually ask Tom whether anything is wrong or whether her life is being threatened. Through our extended time with them, we realize that he sincerely is trying to raise his daughter in the best way he knows. Maybe it’s not the right conventional way, but the director never chooses to make Will a bad person. It also makes the people who interact with Will and Tom real people as well. The government officials, fellow soldiers, truckers, and folks at the end. Fittingly, the person who comes off worst is the asshole cop who just pulls someone off a bus for no good reason.
This is probably the most nuanced movie on my favorites lift. It works because it sympathizes with every characters and allows us to explore a story and situation not often see on-screen.
*Any potential malfeasance or awful political views aren’t even touched. That’s a positive thing.
MVP: It’s unfortunate that Debra Granik has such a sporatic iMDB because it’s clear what a talented filmmaker she is just in the two works I’ve seen. This is one of the most nuanced movies on the list. In a sense, there are no antagonists. Everyone is trying to do their best and trying to be a genuinely good person. Even the officials who try to house Will and Tom aren’t wrong. This works on the screenplay and directing level. Nature comes off like both a threat and home. The pacing can be deliberate, but something is always happening. Granik handles this story with a lot of care. It would be easy for someone else to either judge Will or have him just be abusive toward his daughter. We need more stories like this about people who aren’t necessarily living on the coast or in a major city and a lot less like whatever Hillbilly Elegy is going to be.
Best Performance: Debra Granik is probably best known for The Winter’s Bone, and that film is best known for being Jennifer Lawrence’s break-out. It’s possible she was always going to have a huge film career, but Granik gave her a generous shove toward stardom. I can see the same thing happening to Thomasin McKenzie. She has to carry the emotional aspects of the film given her father is almost unapproachable. Ben Foster is as good as he ever is, but McKenzie is the one who changes. Tom realizes that while she doesn’t’ exactly want a “normal” life, she also doesn’t want to live in the woods alone with her father. We see her infatuation with animals, the rabbits on the farm, the dog and bees in what will eventually become her new home. I will watch her career with great interest as she’s followed up with JoJo Rabbit and Edgar Wright’s upcoming film.
Best Quote: “The same thing that’s wrong with you isn’t wrong with me.” – Tom
Is there a sequel? No.