Tom (Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie) and her dad, Will (Ben Foster), are experts at living off the grid. Rather than living in a house or apartment, they make their home in a public park — where they’re careful not to be seen foraging for mushrooms or camping out under the stars. That is, until they’re discovered by the authorities, who quickly set about interrogating them regarding their lifestyle.
Will is a veteran and widower who has chosen to separate himself from consumer society. Perhaps that’s because he has post-traumatic stress, perhaps not. But you get the sense that he embraces his independence and hopes to serve as an example for his daughter.
All Tom knows is that her life revolves around her dad, and whatever he wants to do is what needs to be done. But to the social workers assigned to them, both are misfits whose behavior must be changed. In short order, they’re assigned a home that’s more in keeping with the demands of society. And perhaps to her surprise, Tom doesn’t object.
In fact, a rift begins to develop between Will and Tom that threatens their relationship. The question is whether they can find common ground.
Based on the novel “My Abandonment” by Peter Rock, “Leave No Trace” is more of a mood piece than a movie. Working from a screenplay that she co-wrote with Anne Rosellini, director Debra Granik (“Winter’s Bone”) seems more interested in examining the pros and cons of conforming to society than in telling a conventional story. Her sensibility is similar to that of director Kelly Reichardt (“Wendy and Lucy”), whose films have more in common with literary fiction than with mainstream cinema.
Foster (“Hell or High Water”), who is best known for portraying unhinged and dangerous characters, is intriguingly enigmatic as Will. And Harcourt McKenzie turns in a hauntingly memorable performance.
“Leave No Trace” isn’t a popcorn flick, but serious film buffs will find much to appreciate.
What “Leave No Trace” • Three stars out of four • Run time 1:49 • Rating PG • Content Thematic material