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Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie and Ben Foster in Leave No Trace.Courtesy of Elevation Films

  • Leave No Trace
  • Directed by Debra Granik
  • Written by Debra Granik and Anne Rosellini
  • Starring Ben Foster and Thomasin McKenzie
  • Classification PG; 109 minutes
  • Opening July 5 in Toronto


3.5 out of 4 stars

Debra Granik is aware her films don’t “taste like hot sauce.” In a recent interview with The Globe and Mail, the director and co-writer of the new father-daughter drama Leave No Trace (as well as Winter’s Bone, the 2010 Ozarks thriller that launched Jennifer Lawrence’s career), copped to her extreme narrative minimalism. “I’m not scared of that,” she said. “And I’m seeking audiences who can tolerate it, and enjoy it. A film doesn’t have to be wild flavours all the time.”

That might indicate a certain blandness to Granik’s work, but her style is more an artfully acquired taste in a landscape that favours all-you-can-eat buffets of stomach-churning junk. Leave No Trace, which follows the first sturdy, and then crumbling, relationship between a survivalist veteran (Ben Foster) and his almost-teenage daughter (Thomasin McKenzie), is certainly worthy of savouring.

Aside from an inciting incident early in the film – in which authorities bust in on the family’s makeshift camp in the Oregon woods – Granik and co-writer Anne Rosellini’s story is a spare one, all quiet drama and internal moments of profound change. In some ways, it’s almost a silent film – characters only speak when necessary, with Foster and McKenzie (a remarkable find, who is bound to generate Lawrence comparisons) telling the story with their eyes. But Granik’s attention to family dynamics, and the pained feelings of those living outside America’s rigid expectations, speak louder than words.

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