Sundance Film Festival movie reviews: Ben Foster the heart and soul of “Leave No Trace”

by Jenniffer Wardell

Not rated

Screeplay by Debra Granik and Anne Rosellini, based on the novel by Peter Rock

Directed by Debra Granik

Starring Ben Foster, Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie, Jeff Kober, Dale Dickey and more

Grade: Three stars


“Leave No Trace” isn’t perfect, but it will stay with me for a long time.

The movie, about a father and daughter living off the grid who have their peaceful lives irrevocably altered by the rest of the world, is a quiet, heartbreaking look at love, mental illness and what it means to grow up. Though the movie has a fable-like quality that keeps it from being quite as impactful as it might have been, the emotions running through it will make it linger in the memory.

The movie opens with Will and his teenage daughter Tom living in the woods in a national park, a sparse life that they both seemed utterly content with. Discovery by a random jogger, however, leads to both being brought in by the authorities. Though they try to set them up with a new life, Will’s PTSD and fear that they’ll take his daughter pushes them on an often perilous journey to find someplace new.

Ben Foster is fantastic as Will, a veteran who manages to be a loving father despite struggling with a host of demons. Even when it’s clear he’s not making the best decisions, it’s clear that he cares for his daughter the best that he possibly can. Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie, as daughter Tom, wasn’t quite as nuanced in her emotions. Still, the actress balances the character’s clear attachment to her father with a growing yen for a different kind of life.


(Photo by Scott Green | Courtesy of Sundance Institute)


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