I guess I should give credit to Victor Morton, the Rightwing Film Geek for this film recommendation…but I won’t. I can already tell you that my Best & Worst films of 2018 will be VASTLY different from the Academy and the Foreign Press because as the 2019 Golden Globes nominations have been announced, sadly the film Leave No Trace is nowhere to be found, but they found a spot for Black Panther so no one could excuse them of being racist (this year).
Back to the film at hand, at what point does a celebration of independence become a troubling story of child endangerment? Leave No Trace leaves that answer to the audience. The story, set in the Pacific Northwest, follows an Army veteran (Ben Foster) and his teenage daughter (Thomasin McKenzie) who live off the grid in a public park in Oregon. The duo survives selling his VA meds to homeless vets in order to maintain minimal necessities. One day, the group is busted by the police who order them off of the land. After being relocated to a working farm, Tom begins to enjoy life amongst other people in the small community, however, her father who is suffering from PTSD cannot live in a community setting and wants to go back out into the woods leading to a difficult decision between father and daughter.
It is rare that a film with 100% on Rotten Tomatoes is actually worth the rating but this one is. Leave No Trace is a story about homelessness, community, independence, and mental illness that leaves out all of the hamfistedness of those topics by keeping everything simple. The drama of the film is purely psychological that provides its conflict without demonizing anyone in the process. Will and Tom are homeless by choice, early on they are portrayed as people who just want to live free from society’s reins and seeing as they are not a threat to anyone and it is their choice, you sympathize with their quest for freedom. As the story progresses, you start to understand that while Will wants to live in isolation, his daughter wants to socialize and work with other people. The most important aspect of the film is family. The only person who Tom associates with is her father so she yearns for an opportunity to be around others to gain that sense of community, however, Will dealing with a tragic past of war and the loss of his wife wants to be further separated from a world that brings him nothing but pain.
There does come a point where Will’s need for living off the grid comes at the expense of his own daughter putting her health and happiness in danger. But instead of being resentful towards her dad, she learns the true nature of his pain and understands that they have to go their separate ways for the well-being of their relationship and happiness. The acting is stellar, one of the best jobs all around this year as Ben Foster adds to his impressive resume. Thomasin McKenzie is heartwarming, optimistic, and is the driving force of humanity that makes this film a classic.
The one negative here is that they don’t go into enough detail about Will’s problems with PTSD and the loss of his wife that makes his anti-social approach more understandable. With that said, Leave No Trace is undoubtedly one of the best movies of 2018, whether Hollywood acknowledges it or not.