Film Review “Leave No Trace”

Starring: Ben Foster, Thomasin McKenzie
Directed by: Debra Granik
Rated: PG
Running Time: 1 hr 49 mins
Bleecker Street

Our Score: 4 out of 5 stars

Has another star been born thanks to director/writer Debra Granik? While watching the powerful performance delivered by New Zealand-born actress Thomasin McKenzie in the new drama “Leave No Trace,” it is impossible to not think about what Granik once pulled out of a relatively unknown young actress named Jennifer Lawrence. It is perhaps an unfair comparison considering that Lawrence received the first of her four Oscar nominations for her role as a tough, teenage Ozarks girl in 2010’s “Winter’s Bone.” However, McKenzie, whose previous experience has primarily consisted of TV work, has, at roughly the same age as Lawrence was eight years ago, provided something that is special to watch on the silver screen. Through her eyes alone she projects her character’s tough, determined nature which she also reveals is just a façade masking a 13-year-old girl’s desperation to please a father traumatized by war.

The present-day setting for “Leave No Trace” is a heavily forested park on the outskirts of Portland, Oregon. Widowed veteran Will (Ben Foster, Hell or High Water, The Messenger) and his daughter, Tom (McKenzie) live an isolated existence in the often damp and rainy woods. They survive by scavenging for food that nature provides them with only a few creature comforts of modern society. Will drills her on hiding techniques by making sure she leaves no trace of where she is at. Occasionally, they walk into Portland where he checks into a Veterans Administration hospital to get medications he later sells to other struggling vets to buy necessities for their life in the woods.

Their existence is changed forever when they are discovered by park rangers and law enforcement. Each is subsequently given a series of tests with social services questioning if she has ever been violated by her father. The system gives them a second chance to have a conventional life together as they are placed in a residence on tree/horse farm where Will is given a job. This new sense of normalcy is too much for Will as he cannot bring himself to be a part of society. The opposite happens with Tom whose introduction to a life outside of the one with her damaged father sparks a sense of curiosity within her and a desire to be a part of something more. This puts them on a collision course that will test the bonds of their relationship.

Based upon the 2009 book “My Abandonment” by American novelist Peter Rock, “Leave No Trace,” which premiered at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival, is a moving work of genuine sadness that will pull at the heartstrings of anyone who has a heart. McKenzie is a revelation of such proportions that it is hard to think of another young actress who has demonstrated this level of promise since Lawrence. Her delivery is flawless as she brilliantly plays a young girl who has been forced to grow up faster than anyone her age ever should. There is a certain sense of tragedy about her, yet you can tell it has also forged an iron determination within her.

I would be negligent if I did not mention Foster who once again demonstrates how skillful of actor he has become in recent years. Pain leaks out of every pour in Foster’s skin as his character is so consumed by PTSD from combat that he is putting Tom in danger every day they are on the run without thinking about what he is doing. Unfortunately, like someone from a Greek tragedy Will is man who has fallen so far and is so broken that he simply cannot be fixed again. Foster does not have a lot of extensive dialogue to recite but his quiet moments speak volumes.

Although her story lacks the complexity of “Winter’s Bone,” Granik, who co-wrote the screenplay with Anne Rosellini, also a producer and writer on “Winter’s Bone,” has created something that will haunt you for a while after leaving the theater.

Blu-ray Review “This Is Where I Leave You”

Starring: Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Adam Driver, Jane Fonda, Rose Byrne, Kathryn Hahn
Director: Shawn Levy
Rated: R (Restricted)
Studio: Warner Home Video
Release Date: December 16, 2014
Run Time: 103 minutes

Film: 2.5 out of 5 stars
Blu-ray: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Extras: 2.5 out of 5 stars

Here is the main issue with “This is Where I leave You”, it is packed with a great ensemble cast including Jason Bateman (“Arrested Development”); Tina Fey (“30 Rock”); Jane Fonda (“Barbarella”), as well as Adam Driver (“Star Wars Episode VII”); Rose Byrne (“Insidious”); Corey Stoll (“House of Cards”) and Kathryn Hahn (“Parks and Recreation” and with a cast like that expectations are very high but this film has its moments and those moments don’t last long. This drama/comedy is extremely forgettable and you will have probably forgotten about it by the time you get to the end of this anyway.

Official Premise: When their father passes away, four grown siblings, bruised and banged up by their respective adult lives, are forced to return to their childhood home and live under the same roof together for a week, along with their over-sharing mother and an assortment of spouses, exes and might-have-beens. Confronting their history and the frayed states of their relationships among the people who know and love them best, they ultimately reconnect in hysterical and emotionally affecting ways amid the chaos, humor, heartache and redemption that only families can provide— driving us insane even as they remind us of our truest, and often best, selves.

Warner’s is releasing this a a combo pack with a Blu-Ray + DVD + UltraViolet Digital HD copy. There is nothing special or actually bad with the Blu-ray presentation. It is basic 1080p transfer with a DTS-Master Audio 5.1 track. The special features aren’t music special either. There is an interview and a commentary track from Shawn Levy and Jonathan Tropper in “· The Narrative Voice”. There are two featurettes “The Gospel According to Rabbi Boner”, “Points of Departure” and some deleted/extended scenes included.

Own “This is Where I Leave You” on Blu-ray Combo Pack, DVD, and Digital HD on December 16th

Related Content

Film Review “This Is Where I Leave You”

Starring: Jason Bateman, Tina Fey and Jane Fonda
Directed by: Shawn Levy
Rated: R
Running time: 1 hour 43 mins
Warner Brothers

Our Score: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Meet the Altman family. Judd (Bateman) just came home early to find his wife (Abigail Spencer) in bed with his boss (Dax Shepard). Oldest brother Paul (Corey Stoll) is doing everything and more to get his wife pregnant. Sister Wendy (Fey) is the family sounding board. And youngest brother Phillip (Adam Driver) is still the kid who has never grown up. When their father dies they are summoned by their mother Hilary (Fonda) to “sit Shiva” for seven days in the family home. It may turn out to be the longest week of all their lives.

An incredibly emotional ensemble piece, perfectly matching laughter and tears, “This Is Where I Leave You” is the first official Oscar contender of the fall. As the siblings spend time in the house they grew up in, their memories of their lives, both with and without their father, overtake them. A vulnerable Judd rekindles a friendship with an old flame (a perfectly cast Rose Byrne) while Phillip shows up driving a Porsche carrying his much older girlfriend – and psychiatrist – (Connie Britton). Paul, who helped his dad run the family’s sporting goods business, is appalled that he must now share it with his siblings while Wendy must deal with an old romance with the boy (Timothy Olyphant) across the street, a former shell of himself mentally due to a car accident. “Is it the whole world or just our family,” Judd asks at one point. Overseeing the brood, Mama Hilary (and her newly augmented breasts) does her best to have the answers to all of her children’s questions even though she has no one to help answer hers.

The cast is spot on perfect. Bateman and Stoll deliver as the two voices of reason while Fey shows a very little seen dramatic side. Fonda shows why she has been a star for almost 50 years (“Cat Ballou” came out in 1965). But the scene stealer here is Driver, who I was only familiar with thanks to small roles in “Lincoln” and “Inside Llewelyn Davis” and has a recurring role in the HBO comedy “Girls.” Every time he is on screen you can’t help but be drawn to his energy. Driver has a top-secret role in the upcoming “Star Wars: Episode VII” and my fingers are crossed that he’s playing Han Solo’s son. He has that roguish quality about him (like Harrison Ford did in the first film) that makes it almost impossible to dislike him.

As fall approaches the weather is changing and so are the films. I hope you take the opportunity to spend some time with the Altman family.

Win Passes to the Kansas City Screening of “This Is Where I Leave You” [ENDED]

Media Mikes has teamed up with Warner Brothers to give (50) of our Kansas City area readers (and their guests) an opportunity to win tickets to the upcoming advance screening of the film “This Is Where I Leave You,” starring Jason Bateman, Tina Fey and Jane Fonda.

All you have to do is visit and enter the Code MMD862. (50) random entries will be chosen to receive a pass for (2) to attend the screening. Entries must be received by 9/13/2014. Winners will be notified by email on 9/14/14.

Screening Information
Tuesday, Septeber 16, 2014
7:00 p.m.
Dickinson Eastglen Theatre
Lee’s Summit, Missouri

When their father passes away, four grown and world-weary siblings return to their childhood home and requested — with an admonition — to stay there together for a week, along with their free-speaking mother (Jane Fonda) and a collection of spouses, exes and might-have-beens. As the brothers and sisters re-examine their shared history and the status of each tattered relationship among those who know and love them best, they reconnect in hysterically funny and emotionally significant ways.