Tag Archives: Debra Granick

The Sounds of Silence

Leave No Trace

by George Wolf

In her first feature since 2010’s gripping Winter’s Bone, writer/director Debra Granik is again focused on souls living on the rural fringes and scraping out a hardscrabble, under-the-radar existence.

But with Leave No Trace, any sinister, menacing layers have been replaced by a tender, sympathetic grace that feels achingly authentic, and often heartbreaking.

The film is driven by two haunting lead performances.

Ben Foster, surely one of the most underrated actors around, plays Will, a committed single father living deep within a massive state park in Portland. Will and his teenage daughter Tom (Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie) get all they need from their illegal homemade camp in the forest, taking constant measures to avoid being spotted.

One mistake later, Will is desperate to break free from the bureaucratic pressure to adapt, while Tom begins to feel the pull of a “normal” she has never known.

Granik adapts Peter Rock’s novel with a subtlety that stuns, speaking volumes in the silences that would cripple lesser films. Sketches of Will’s backstory are casually provided, allowing the two main performers to let us into the touching bond they create with each other.

Though Foster’s tremendous turn is not exactly surprising, the little-known McKenzie delivers a statement performance full of wonder and quiet power. “Tom,” torn by the love of her father and the need to follow her own heart, becomes our window into this private world, and McKenzie comes nowhere close to any false notes.

Leave No Trace follows its own titular advice, broaching a variety of relevant social concerns without ever raising its voice, yet cutting so deeply you may not get out of the theater with dry eyes.

Less is so often more, and Leave No Trace emits a profoundly minimalistic beauty.

For Your Queue: Everybody loves J-Law

At long last, Silver Lining’s Playbook David O. Russell’s story of love in a hyper-diagnosed, over-medicated, label-dependent society – is available on DVD. Bradley Cooper plays a damaged man returning home to Philly from an institutionalized stint. He returns to a football obsessed father with undiagnosed OCD (Robert DeNiro – and he’s actually acting, everybody!), and his own unrelenting determination to win back his estranged wife. And then he meets an unbalanced, brooding, unquestionably hot neighbor (Oscar winner Jennifer Lawrence). Both leads are fantastic, buoyed by an excellent supporting cast and a screenplay that bends to enough Hollywood tropes to be a crowd pleaser but subverts enough to be a real surprise.

We’re not going to pretend we championed Lawrence since her TV days on the Bill Envall show, but with Winter’s Bone, she impressed us and everyone else who saw her gritty, Oscar-nominated performance. As a young woman in the Ozarks wading through family secrets while searching for her father, Lawrence is never less than frighteningly real. She is surrounded by an outstanding supporting cast, most notably John Hawkes and Dale Dickie. Director/co-writer Debra Granick crafts a latter day Deliverance that grabs you early, not letting go until you feel that you’ve survived an experience, not merely seen a movie.