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Leave No Trace (2018)

Universal Studios Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 10/2/2018

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Review by Mike Long, Posted on 10/9/2018

Several times in the past, we have discussed the portrayal of mental illness in movies. Most often, individuals who have a psychiatric condition are portrayed as being out of control -- screaming, flailing, and often being violent. While this certainly can happen in real life, most people who have a mental illness are quiet, withdrawn, and tend to isolate. Mental illness truly can be a "hidden disease", and subjective nature of psychological issues can make them difficult to diagnose and treat. But, when it comes to entertainment, we need for our "psychos" to be loud and outrageous, right? Leave No Trace has other thoughts on how these individuals can be portrayed.

Will (Ben Foster) and his daughter, Tom (Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie), live in the forest. They have a small garden, forage for food in the woods, and, using a tarp, collect water. They sleep in a tent, listening for predators in the night. Will teaches Tom how to hide in the forest and how to eliminate her tracks. When they are in need of specific supplies, they travel into nearby Portland. However, when their camp is raided by the authorities, Will and Tom's tranquil existence will be turned upside-down. The outside world will learn about how they have been living, while Will and Tom will have to adjust to a new landscape which seems completely alien to them.

If you are looking for a loud, brash movie, then move along as Leave No Trace is very quiet and subtle. The story unfolds at a very methodical pace, slowly revealing what is really happening with Will and Tom. I went into the movie knowing nothing about it and, in the first few minutes, wondered if perhaps they were living in some sort of post-apocalyptic world. When we learn that they live near Portland, the question then becomes, why are they living this way. I don't want to give too much away here, but it's revealed early on that Will is a military veteran and it's clear that this is a part of their odd life.

And it's here that Leave No Trace reveals why it is such a unique movie. Will's issues are not the central part of the narrative. While it's true that his decisions are the driving force behind what is happening, the movie opts to focus on how this way of life effects Tom and how Will struggles to be a good father. The movie could easily be compared to Captain Fantastic, as both feature fathers who have raised children away from civilization and without social norms. But, in that film, the father had made a conscious choice to have this lifestyle. Will is at the mercy of his inner demons and Tom is simply along for the ride. But, the movie never makes Will out to be a bad person. We feel sorry for both father and daughter, but in different ways. The audience sees how Will is torn between what society sees as appropriate for Tom and what his internal alarms are telling him to do. Tom is a sweet, smart girl who feels a sense of duty to follow Will, while the viewer is practically yelling at the screen, "No, let her live a 'normal' life!" Come to think of it, Leave No Trace has a lot more in common with 2017's The Glass Castle.

Based on a novel by Peter Rock, Director Debra Granik's approach to what could have been a very hyper-emotional film (not unlike The Glass Castle) is the backbone of Leave No Trace. The glue are the performances by Foster and McKenzie. Foster has long-since been a conundrum, as he's never seemed to embrace the star that he could be, but he gives a powerful, subdued performance here. Rarely has PTSD been played as such an internal affliction. McKenzie keeps pace with him throughout, which is paramount, as she's the emotional center of the story. Leave No Trace contains no action and a relatively small amount of dialogue, but it's one of the most moving films of the year. The opening is a bit slow, but stick with it and you'll be rewarded with a gut-wrenching ending which will leave you discussing the themes for days.

Leave No Trace made me think of my Uncle Fred's Christmas tree farm on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Universal Studios Home Entertainment. The film has letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 35 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear, showing no noticeable grain and no defects from the materials. The colors look fantastic, most notably the green foliage, and the image is never overly dark or bright. The depth works very well here, giving the illusion that we could step into the picture. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 4.0 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. As noted above, this is a quiet film, but we still get some good effects here. The lack of constant dialogue allows us to hear sounds coming from the forest, and the other settings. These sounds emit from the front and rear channels with very nice detail.

The Leave No Trace Blu-ray Disc contains a few extra features. We get two DELETED SCENES which run about 3 minutes. Both are interesting, but wouldn't have added to the movie. There are five "Behind-the-Scenes Vignettes" which run about 16 minutes total. These focus on the bees which are seen in the film, as well as the rabbits, in addition to taking us on-set to see the actors at work. "Creating Leave No Trace" (3 minutes) is a brief featurette which contains interviews with Director Debra Granik, Foster, and McKenzie, and gives an overview of the film's story and themes, including how those who live outside of society are treated and how people have lost their connection with nature. The final extra is a "Location Scout Photo Gallery".

Review Copyright 2018 by Mike Long