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Film / Leave No Trace

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Leave No Trace is a 2018 American drama film directed by Debra Granik, with a script co-written by her and Anne Rossellini, based on the novel My Abandonment by Peter Rock. It is Granik's first scripted film since 2010's Winter's Bone, although she had directed the documentary Stray Dog in the interim.

Will (Ben Foster) and his daughter Tom (Thomasin McKenzie) live in a large public park in Portland, Oregon, carrying only barebones camping equipment and only going into the city for essentials when they absolutely have to; for cash, Will sells his VA-provided medications to a fellow veteran. Their goal is to avoid notice as much as possible. Nonetheless, a jogger spots them and notifies the authorities. They are soon assigned to live on a Christmas tree farm operated by Mr. Walters (Jeff Kober), who is moved by Will's military service to offer them housing and give Will a job. Will finds the structure on the farm suffocating, and soon the pair are on the run again. Their travels eventually bring them to an RV community in Washington state, a kind of utopian society outside of society.


Leave No Trace was very well received by critics, attaining a 100% freshness rating on Rotten Tomatoes. While it wasn't nominated for any Academy Awards the National Board of Review did name it one of the Top Ten Independent Films of the year and recognized McKenzie as Breakout Performance.


  • Adorably Precocious Child: Tom is a teenager but she has been taught by her father to be extremely self sufficient. She can cook her own food and survive in the wilderness. Despite being hardened to the elements, she is still a cute and innocent child.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Tom has found a community to belong to so that she can grow as a person, but Will is unable to adapt to this life and returns to live in the woods alone. It's implied that while he won't be in her life as much, the two will see each other again.
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  • Cool Old Lady: The sweet beekeeper who teaches Tom the ways of the hive.
  • Dr. Feelgood: In a sense, Will fills this roll for the other veterans living in the woods. He goes and procures meds from the VA Hospital which he then sells to them for a profit.
  • The Medic: Larry is a former U.S. Army medic who patches up Will after his accident. He also appears to suffer from PTSD as he has a service dog, though he is clearly much better adjusted than Will is.
  • Missing Mom: Tom asks Will what her mother's favorite color was. The question implies that it's just been the two of them for as long as she can remember.
  • Mistaken for Pedophile: Played for Drama. Will is often faced with suspicion, due to his and Tom's situation; a scruffy, homeless-looking man who seem constantly on-edge and doesn't speak much travelling around and living in the woods with a teenage girl. Tom often has to explain to people they encounter that they are merely father and daughter and there is nothing weird or unseemly going on between them.
  • No Antagonist: No one really mistreats Will or Tom, and most people they meet seem to want to help them (See also Reasonable Authority Figure). It just doesn't work out.
  • No Social Skills: Will lacks them because of his wartime trauma and the avoidant philosophy he's adopted. Tom is homeschooled, and hasn't had significant interaction with people beyond her father.
  • The Other Rainforest: A lot of the film takes place in the forests of Oregon and Washington, and they have to deal with a cold and heavy storm at one point.
  • The Patient Has Left the Building: Will takes off again at the end, this time alone, even though his leg hasn't finished healing.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Jean and James, the social workers for Tom and Will, respectively, both demonstrate good will and try to find an arrangement that works for them. Mr. Walters could probably get good publicity out of hiring a homeless veteran, but genuinely seems to like Will as well.
  • The Runaway: A teen runaway boards the same long distance bus as Will and Tom after they leave the farm, and police sweep it before they find her and retrieve her. The experience spooks Will so much he and Tom immediately get off the bus.
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: Will experiences undigested trauma from the action he saw overseas (probably Afghanistan, given the contemporary setting). The sound of helicopters makes him notably agitated, and the sound even haunt his dreams. Larry, the former army medic who patches up Will's leg at the RV park, speaks of bad war experiences as well.
  • Silence Is Golden: The film has a musical score, but it's minimal and drops out for some scenes.


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