Leave No Trace ★★★★★

‪LEAVE NO TRACE (Granik, USA, 2018, 10, was 9)

This is gonna sound more back-handed than I mean it but a significant part of this film’s greatness is in what it DOESN’T do. There is no war flashback; Foster’s reaction to diegetic helicopter sounds is enough. There is no real father-daughter “confrontation” talk before the last scene, because that isn’t these people. There is no VA-related politicking because people don’t live like issues. There is no elaborate long-term plan. And most of all, there is never any hint of anything other than that both the father and the daughter see the other as the most important thing in the world. Granik just makes every correct choice and accretes all the details, like handling Tom’s cold extremities or how they get water or “not a drill” or “are we gonna freeze in our sleep?”. 

One of the trailers that accompanied this film was MOWGLI, and that’s a less-cracked comparison than it might seem, as Tom is raised outside society she can glimpse but sees as a threat. The other film that kept coming to mind was BOUDU SAVED FROM DROWNING and again in critical-negative terms. Both Renoir and Paul Mazursky in his American remake (DOWN AND OUT IN BEVERLY HILLS) romanticized the life of the vagabond in a way that I found off-putting, in the name of the already-cliche bourgeois-baiting. Granik does neither — both by making daily life uncertain without goosing it up with melodramatic danger and by making the “square” life ... not anti-attractive, just not attractive to these folk. For example, I’ll admit to snickering at the liturgical dancers, but Tom herself found them interesting. The state agents and the tree-farm employer are well-intentioned, not the objects of satire.‬