For a movie based on the post-service experiences of disturbed veteran, the soundscape of Leave No Trace is stunning in its quiet. Not just its lack of flashbacks, mind you, but its pensive non-verbal communication—all the sounds you don’t hear.

For a movie that takes place largely in the dripping wet woods of the Pacific Northwest, the complexity of the plot is fitting in its density. There are few rewards in being such an outsider that even your own footprint creates a sense of unease. But that is the life that Will (Ben Foster, Hostiles) lives, in complete survivalist mode, and thus the life in which he leads his daughter Tom (Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie).
The backstory of where and when he served and what happened to Tom’s mother isn’t important in this telling, although we admit we crave more of that. The unknowns of how they came to live on public land are still gnawing days after our viewing. Foster conveys gruff love with deep eyes since his face is largely hidden under a golden beard, and Tom’s own chin does some of her biggest heaves as it quivers under the weight of her coming of age. “The same thing that’s wrong with you,” she says at a pivotal moment, “isn’t wrong with me.”

The two characters get all the artistic focus of director Debra Granik, known for her griping Missouri woods rendition of Winter’s BoneTrace is also adapted from a novel, My Abandonment by Peter Rock, which that author says is based on a true story. This one’s also solemn and unjust as the pair suffers the intervention of social services. It feels true enough: the rules our society imposes, the way in which for many those rules are just too much to bear. And how we don’t have much room, really, for figuring out a way to loosen the bondage to allow for healing.   

8
+It's a heart-wrenching thinker

-Minimal storytelling leaves lots undone

Without a Trace
Directed by Granik

With Foster and McKenzie
Violet Crown, PG, 109 min.