I didn’t like Winter’s Bone, the director’s most acclaimed film, and so spent a considerable stretch of Leave No Trace in the throes of some imagined portent that eventually dissolved, soon to give way to something like a more surly This is Martin Bonner, where the greatest drama is that a troubled veteran (Ben Foster) cannot rest his unquiet mind, even as his instincts for caring for his teenage daughter (Thomasin McKenzie) are sharp and indisputably well-intentioned. The result is an almost-dark film that’s acted upon by a considerably more optimistic (not to mention lovingly detailed) one about the comforts of even the fringest of communities, as opposed to what I’d feared, a film heading towards okay-ness that would be derailed by the long knives of Things Going Horribly Wrong.
Anyway that’s a bunch of stuff that’s my hang-up, not the film’s, so I’d like to turn this qualified praise into real praise: I enjoyed Granik’s skillful direction and the movie’s itinerant, propulsive editing, knowing (appropriately to its theme) when to dwell and when to ramble on. Normally I have an inexplicable, deep-seated aversion to Ben Foster, but he’s very good; McKenzie comes across sometimes as a miraculous amateur, and was surprised to learn she’s been acting in films for a number of years. That her performance, which oscillates between that of an unsteady alien trying to learn human, and an increasingly confident young person learning to call bullshit on her dad, led me to guess that Granik had merely plucked McKenzie out of a crowd of non-actors, is itself a miracle. All in all, a good film that’s structurally sound and doesn’t overspend its credit, and movingly empathetic towards the anxious and ill-fitting of 2018.