Review: Leave No Trace is top notch filmmaking of tenderness and restraint

There are three very good reasons to book your seats immediately for Leave No Trace: Debra Granik, Ben Foster and Thomasin McKenzie.

Granik, of course, knows exactly how to adapt a story for the big screen - look what she did with the Oscar-nominated Winter's Bone.

She also knows how to nurture raw undiscovered talent - look no further than Jennifer Lawrence and her Oscar-nominated performance in that very same film.

Leave No Trace is her adaptation of the book My Abandonment and alongside proven performer Ben Foster she casts a young kiwi actress from Wellington. Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie comes from local acting royalty, the daughter of Miranda Harcourt (Gloss/The Changeover) and Stuart McKenzie (The Changeover).

And while having a mother who happens to be one of the most sought after acting coaches in the world (a roster which includes Nicole Kidman and Dev Patel), it's stunningly clear that this young actress is full to the brim with a very real talent for connecting with her characters, her co-stars and her audience.

She plays Tom, the young teenage daughter of  PTSD sufferer (Foster), a man so very clearly struggling with his demons. To silence them, he escapes the real world, taking his daughter with him.

They've been living rough in a national park; camping, foraging, keeping very much to themselves. Evading possible discovery by the authorities is a daily drill, but the inevitable will eventually come home to roost.

Central to this tale is of course the love of a daughter for her troubled father, and his in return. His desperate need to stay off the grid, the balancing act which emerges between what's best for him and what's ultimately best for her, this is explored with such tenderness and restraint, and with such love, that we are inexorably drawn into their lives and their story.

It's top notch filmmaking and should not be missed.

Four-and-a-half stars.

* Leave No Trace is playing at the 2018 NZ International Film Festival.

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