For Your Consideration: Two Cents Commits to LEAVE NO TRACE

Two Cents is an original column akin to a book club for films. The Cinapse team will program films and contribute our best, most insightful, or most creative thoughts on each film using a maximum of 200 words each. Guest writers and fan comments are encouraged, as are suggestions for future entries to the column. Join us as we share our two cents on films we love, films we are curious about, and films we believe merit some discussion.

The Pick

It’s been great watching some of 2018’s best but underappreciated offerings for this For Your Consideration series, but we knew we could not finish without first appreciating Debra Granik’s Leave No Trace.

Granik has been absent from the feature film scene since 2010, when her Appalachian noir Winter’s Bone turned Jennifer Lawrence from the daughter on The Bill Engvall Show into the most in-demand talent in all of Hollywood. While we’re not going to cast aspersions about why Granik went eight years without another feature (though given the nature of the industry/culture, we can make some guesses), it’s awfully good to have her back.

Leave No Trace is the story of Will (Ben Foster) and his daughter Tom (Thomasin McKenzie) and the life they share in the forests of the Pacific Northwest. Will is veteran haunted by PTSD, unable to function well in the modern world. The pair’s peaceful life roughing it is interrupted when state officials discover the camp and start asking questions about why a teenage girl is living off mushrooms and sleeping in a tent. Placed into a house and given a chance at something closer to ‘normal’ life, both Will and Tom are suddenly forced to confront who they are and what that needs, and whether the love between them can overcome the damages of the world.

Hugely acclaimed by critics upon release, (it holds a rare 100% on Rotten Tomatoes) Leave No Trace has nonetheless been pointedly absent from awards season, perhaps due to its lacking the kind of melodramatic fireworks and Oscar clip-ready blow-ups that grab attention and snare votes. But it seems to us that no discussion of the best films of the year would be complete without a consideration of what Granik, Foster, and McKenzie built together.

So let’s go for a walk in the woods, shall we, and decide for ourselves whether Leave No Trace leaves much of an impact.

Next Week’s Pick:

In honor of Women in Horror Month, we’ll be taking a trip into The Shimmer with the predominantly female cast of last year’s mind-bending horror/sci-fi film Annihilation, directed by Alex Garland of Ex Machina and them Danny Boyle movies fame. It’s now available streaming on Amazon Prime as well as Hulu.

Would you like to be a guest in next week’s Two Cents column? Simply watch and send your under-200-word review to twocents(at) anytime before midnight on Thursday!

The Team

Ed Travis:

“Where is your home?”

“With my Dad”.

“It’s not a crime to be unhoused, but it’s illegal to live on public land”.

A father suffering from PTSD and his teenage daughter forge a life for themselves camping in the Pacific Northwest. As the father’s PTSD and the daughter’s need for independence clash, a powerful exploration of what homelessness truly means emerges. (@Ed_Travis)

Brendan Foley:

It’s interesting that we’re doing this so close to You Were Never Really Here, both movies in which hugely acclaimed (though maddeningly infrequent) female directors examine a traumatized masculine mind. With YWNRH, director Lynne Ramsey worked overtime to entrench you inside the skull of Joaquin Phoenix’s suicidal vigilante, using every technique on hand to make you feel everything Phoenix does.

With Leave No Trace, Granik’s direction and Foster’s performance never let you in. Foster is more than capable of exploding off the screen, able to go uncontrollably BIG when the role calls for it/he gets bored and decides to liven things up. But his Will is a clenched fist of a man, with only the occasional crack betraying the deep well of grief and rage and horror that festers within him.

Granik’s focus is less on Will’s trauma than the impact it has on Joe. As a director, Granik uses small gestures and moments to suggest not only the co-dependent intimacy that exists between father-daughter, but also the budding moments of independence and rebellion that go with being a teenage girl. The brilliance of McKenzie’s performance is how she etches the way those needs mount and mount until finally she has to take a stand as her own person. It’s the moment a child becomes an adult, and the moment one half of a toxic relationship finally pulls the ripcord. There’s no villain, no grand showdown, only a slow realization that one particular road has reached its end and a new one has to be forged.

Quietly powerful stuff. (@theTrueBrendanF)

Austin Vashaw:

An intriguing story of people living on the fringes of the fringes. I hadn’t quite put together the PTSD connection until Brendan pointed it out above, but that definitely clicks.

It reminded me a bit of Captain Fantastic, but without the exaggerated aesthetic that permeated that particular film. Whereas Viggo Mortensen’s “captain” and his crew of kids were more like iconoclastic hippies, it becomes increasingly clear that the patriarch of this more thoughtful analysis is incapable of coping with society, rather than rebelling against it. But as his teenage daughter is growing up, she yearns for the comforts of community and normalcy.

Naturally beautiful and quiet in its presentation (without being dull), Leave No Trace offers up human observations without drawing strict conclusions, allowing the viewer contemplate the questions that permeate its ethical and practical quandaries. (@VforVashaw)

Next week’s pick:

Annihilation —

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