Will (Ben Foster) in Leave No Trace has PTSD from Iraq, and daughter Tom is so bright as to make you want her for your daughter. No, she doesn't have his hang up about living in society although they are both willingly living as survivalists in the Oregon wilderness.
As artistic minimalism goes, this film is a poster child. Their life is spent making shelter and foraging for dinner, although they do go into town now and then to buy provisions for her robust appetite. Only when they are discovered living illegally on public land do they have to deal with the outside world.
Although this splendidly understated film has less catastrophe and meanness than director Debra Granik's triumphant Winter's Bone, it does have another Jennifer Lawrence in the making in actress Thomasin. It also has a view of the underclass we rarely see: In this film they are not repulsive hillbillies but rather different sets of a kindly lower middle class ready to help father and daughter survive the onslaught of social agencies sincerely trying to keep them from being separated.
In other words, few bad guys appear, even among the state's bureaucrats. It is refreshing to see fellow Americans, disadvantaged themselves, selflessly helping this needy couple. In an age of nastiness, this film gently reintroduces us to a kinder, gentler society and a memorably self-sufficient and humble father and daughter.
Because of the authentic surroundings and excellent acting, as well as themes of isolation and inclusion, Leave no trace may in fact leave one at Oscar time.
"We can still think our own thoughts." Will