LEAVE NO TRACE (2018)

January 5, 2019

 Greetings again from the darkness. It seems like many more than 8 years have passed since filmmaker Debra Granik’s outstanding film WINTER’S BONE exploded onto the indie scene and introduced most of us to Jennifer Lawrence (although she had been acting for 5 years prior). The talented Ms. Granik has chosen to adapt another book as her feature film follow-up, and once again nature and an independent spirit play a key role. Based on the novel “My Abandonment” by Peter Rock, it’s the story of a father and daughter who live off the grid … until society catches up to them.

Ben Foster (always exceptional) plays Will, a war veteran and father to Tom, his teenage daughter played brilliantly by Thomasin McKenzie. The two live off the grid in the forests outside of Portland. An extended opening sequence with very little dialogue shows us their daily life: capturing rain water, cutting trees for firewood, hiding their camp site, and drilling on making themselves ‘disappear’ in the foliage. It’s in these scenes where cinematographer Michael McDonough shines. His camera work allows us to feel as if we are in the damp forest as the sun rays peek through the trees. It’s a beautiful sight despite our uneasiness towards the father-daughter situation.

When Park Rangers discover them, the two enter the Social Services system, but rather than treat us to yet another uncaring and incompetent bureaucracy, director Granik allows human kindness and reasonableness to play its part. Will and Tom are moved onto a farm where she will enroll in school and he will work on a Christmas tree farm. Of course, we know that Will is not cut out for this life, though we begin to see Tom show signs of true independence and her own dreams.

They make their way back into the woods and an injury – and more human kindness – has them end up in a camp with other outliers. The story really captures the conflict between a society that is obligated to educate and protect children, and the same society that has little clue how to assist veterans of war. We see folks who just want to be left alone, and others who maybe can’t fit in to society – or have no interest in trying.

Supporting work is provided by Dana Millican, the great Dale Dickey, and Isiah Stone (one of the kids from WINTER’S BONE). There is a believability here rarely seen on the big screen, and the love between father and daughter is something to behold. Ms. Granik says so much by saying very little, but what could be such a bleak story actually revels in the kindness to fellow man – the type of kindness which seems all too rare these days.

watch the trailer:

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WINTER’S BONE (2010)

June 28, 2010

Greetings again from the darkness. A double award winner at the Sundance Film Festival, this film is based on Daniel Woodrell’s novel and is directed by Debra Granik. It’s opening sequence slaps the viewer with the bleak unforgivingness of life in the backwoods of the Ozarks. This is land of people that time has passed by – a true community of isolation.

The basic premise of the story is that 17 year old Ree Dolly (played by Jennifer Lawrence) is responsible for raising her brother and sister and caring for her dementia-addled mother while maintaining a mostly positive outlook on the present and future. Reality strikes again when the local sheriff arrives to inform that her missing, meth-lab running father has an upcoming court date. He used their land and house as collateral for his latest bond. If he fails to show, they will lose their home. Instead of breaking down, Ree pledges to find him and starts out on a hazardous journey, unlike we have seen on screen.

This community of mountain people are distrusting of outsiders, but stunningly, are just as paranoid around insiders and even family members. Their way of life seems to depend on pure independence, even though they all seem intertwined in the same illegal activities and daily quest for survival. Some kind of odd code exists – ask nothing, give nothing and get rid of any obstacles.

The driving forces of the story are Ree and her constant hope and courage, and her shaky bond to her dad’s only brother, Teardrop, played chillingly by John Hawkes. Teardrop tries to toughen up Ree and get her to accept her plight, while Ree constantly shows him there is reason to plow forward.

The film is very well written and the local filming brings a harsh reality that was crucial to the film’s success. Additionally, I was stunned at the fierceness displayed by Jennifer Lawrence as Ree. Her performance reminded me of my first exposure to the talents of Meryl Streep (The Deer Hunter) and Evan Rachel Wood (Thirteen). Talk about powerful and exciting … what she did with this role vaults her immediately into a very small group of actresses who can carry a movie with their presence. I am anxiously awaiting her next appearance – a Jody Foster project.

I also want to mention the music in the film. The vocalist, Marideth Sisco, is also the vocalist in the living room band who makes an appearance in one scene. Her voice truly captures the balance of hope and acceptance of plight. This is not a movie for everyone, but it is fascinating and truly cuts to the bone.