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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Leave No Trace is an intense, moving drama from the director of Winter's Bone about a loving father and daughter who are shaken out of their comfortable (if alternative) existence and must struggle to cope with society's demands. It deals with complex, realistic topics including homelessness, alternative living, and occasional exposure-related peril, all involving a 13-year-old girl (Thomasin McKenzie). Her father (Ben Foster) is a veteran who's suffering from PTSD; he makes choices that aren't meant to harm anyone but that could upset/disturb younger viewers. He also sells his prescription meds to a drug dealer. But there's no strong language or sex; the girl is intelligent, loving, and brave; and the movie ultimately has themes of understanding, love, and compassion.
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What's the story?
Based on Peter Rock's novel My Abandonment (which itself was inspired by a true story), LEAVE NO TRACE follows a troubled veteran named Will (Ben Foster) and his 13-year-old daughter, Tom (Thomasin McKenzie), as they try to live outside society. But when their self-sufficient existence in an Oregon public forest is upended, they're forced to integrate into the world -- or escape and find another way to live. Their loving bond is tested as Tom experiences the wider world outside their camp, and hard choices must be made.
Is it any good?
Well-acted and well-written, calmly presented, and moving, this drama has a ring of truth, despite its extraordinary story. Perhaps that's because it was, after all, inspired by true events. In a way, Leave No Trace could function as the middle part of a trilogy (in between the excellent Captain Fantastic and Lean on Pete) of contemporary American indies depicting lifestyles outside of mainstream society. All three films show the mighty struggles of those on the outside -- some by choice, some scraping to survive. All three involve the experiences of children. Leave No Trace, which was directed and co-adapted by Debra Granik (of the superb Winter's Bone), isn't as witty as Captain Fantastic or as harrowing as Lean on Pete, but it is soulful and emotional. It's rooted deeply in Will and Tom's genuine respect and love for each other, which makes their choices and resourcefulness all the more admirable.
It's up to the two leads, Foster and relative newcomer McKenzie, to carry the film, and they're more than up to the task. McKenzie in particular is arresting as a loving daughter whose eyes are opened to a world she never dreamed she wanted to know. But the film is ultimately about how far down a difficult road people can go together before one of them needs to diverge. The kindness of strangers and the truthfulness of familial love speak to the deep humanism that informs this drama, even as it moves toward a painful conclusion.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about why Will and Tom are forced to integrate into society in Leave No Trace. Is it fair? Necessary? How do they each react to their changed circumstances? Which one of them do you relate to more?
How are homeless people typically portrayed on-screen? How do Will and Tom compare to that depiction? Do you think they were better off in the forest or in the home they were provided by the government? Or elsewhere?
Was Will at all scary to you? What did you think of him and his choices?
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