The Williams Lake Film Club is excited to bring director Debra Granik’s latest movie, Leave No Trace, to the Gibraltar Room on Friday, January 11th.
This is Grantik’s third narrative film and is a deeply affecting and powerful story that focuses on the relationship between a father struggling with post-traumatic stress and his teenage daughter. It currently has a 100 per cent rating on Rotten Tomatoes and was universally acclaimed by critics.
To cope with the trauma from serving in an unnamed war, Will (played by Ben Foster) is living in secluded isolation from society in a forested park bordering the city of Portland, Oregon, with his 13-year-old daughter, Tom (played by New Zealand newcomer Thomasin McKenzie). Granik does not provide much backstory regarding Will and Tom’s past, and the audience is left to infer the trauma he has suffered.
We also do not know how long they’ve been living in the park. For the most part, they live off the grid – sleeping in shelters they build themselves, collecting rainwater, and foraging for food. Will collects the little money they need to sustain themselves by selling his prescription drugs to a near-by homeless community of veterans. The film’s storyline is based on a true story (Peter Rock wrote a novel called My Abandonment in 2009 based on it).
Technically, Will and Tom are homeless – they are without a permanent dwelling, and living in the park against the law. While their life is not portrayed as picture perfect or without hardship, they are content. Everything changes for Will and Tom when their camp is spotted by a jogger, who alerts the authorities to their existence. They are both put into social services.
Will cannot handle the invasion of privacy and is not able to adapt to societal norms, while Tom gradually becomes aware of the extent of the trauma her father is dealing with and the ramifications it has had in her life. As it becomes more clear that Will is totally out of place in society and cannot handle the pressure of life behind four walls, we see Tom discover new opportunities, cultivate new interests and friendships, and attend school.
Granik’s previous film, in 2010, was Winter’s Bone, about a young girl struggling to keep her family apiece in the face of brutal poverty in the Southern US. This role introduced Jennifer Lawrence to a large audience and catapulted her to stardom, and based on Thomasin McKenzie’s superb performance in Leave No Trace, critics are speculating the same trajectory for this young actor. Since Leave No Trace, McKenzie has gone on to lead roles in upcoming 2019 films such as Jojo Rabbit (directed by Taika Waititi) and The King (also starring Timothee Chalamet as Henry V). Both are films currently in post-production.
Additionally, Ben Foster brings an authentic and genuine realism to his portrayal of Will. Foster is a veteran actor, who has been in the business since his teenage years. His breakthrough performance is considered by many to be the 2009 film The Messenger, where he played an American Marine sergeant faced with the task of telling civilian spouses or parents that their loved one was killed in action overseas. He has earned a reputation as a consistently brilliant character actor who immerses himself in his role – his work in Leave No Trace is no exception.
The rapport between the two actors is seamless, extraordinary and completely in sync. To prepare for their roles both actors participated together in survival training and wilderness appreciation for weeks before the shooting took place – building fires and shelters together accounted for much of their rehearsal time, and it enabled them to develop a bond that clearly translates to the screen.
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The film was also shot in sequential order, so as the character of Tom begins to learn about PTSD, so did Thomasin McKenzie in real life. She notes in her interview with The Guardian, “we shot consecutively, so when I watch the film I can see myself kind of growing, both inside and outside.”
Although this movie doesn’t shy away from difficult themes, it is ultimately a hopeful film that quietly and unpretentiously depicts small everyday acts of kindness. Unlike most war stories, there is no traditional villain – rather, it is a story of people doing the best they can in difficult circumstances.
As Peter Bradshaw writes in his review (published by The Guardian), this film is “careful, realistic, with a sense of what is possible and what is at stake for those people who really do attempt to turn their backs on conventional living and also reject the stigma of homelessness – but what is also at stake for their children who have had no choice in the matter…It’s a movie that will live with me for a long time”.
Advance tickets are for sale at The Open Book, and tickets will be purchasable at the door. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. while the film begins at 7 pm.
Submitted by the Williams Lake Film Club