Monday, November 09, 2020

Leave No Trace (2018)

Perhaps because it's set in Portland, or more generally the Pacific Northwest, Leave No Trace reminded me a lot of the movies Wendy and Lucy and Lean on Pete. They all look to the economic desperation in the underbelly of modern neoliberal America and take on the corrosive results with small-bore focus. Director and cowriter Debra Granik gave us Winter's Bone 10 years ago and in many ways Leave No Trace makes it a matched set. When we first see them, Will (Ben Foster) and Will's 13-year-old daughter Tom (Thomasin McKenzie) are living comfortably in a patch of old-growth forest. We think they are in isolated deep woods as they forage and start campfires with flint and steel, discuss points of tracking and covering tracks. But when they head in to Portland for supplies we see they're not far from a huge freeway system, living in a public park. That's the reason they want to cover their tracks. We learn by pieces that Will is a Bush/Cheney wars veteran suffering from PTSD. He wants to have as little as possible to do with human civilization, as he raises Tom, teaches her to read as well as to possess survival skills. Above all, mainly, he keeps to himself, a brooding and obviously pained if kindly figure. Early in the picture, however, they are discovered by park police and the downward spiral into the system begins. Marshaled in, they find themselves living in government low-income housing, required to meet certain conditions ("I've got some paperwork for you," is a regular refrain from the social worker assigned to them). Will takes a job working on a Christmas tree farm as Tom starts to discover that civilization might not be so bad. But before long Will packs them up and they are gone again. The picture is largely spent watching Will desperately try to get away and find his peace in isolation even as Tom more and more desperately wants to stay put, practically anywhere will do. She looks to the kindness of others, which she sees can be real. Although it's not particularly clear for some time, Leave No Trace is ultimately a coming-of-age story about Tom. For that matter, Wendy and Lucy and Lean on Pete are coming-of-age stories too. And Winter's Bone. If anything, Granik has gotten even better at this.

No comments:

Post a Comment