Ben Foster’s performance in Leave No Trace is frustrating and heartbreaking to watch.
Foster plays Will a former vet living with PTSD and a widower with a 13 year old daughter Tom (Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie) who chooses to live off the grid in a constant survivalist state in an Oregon national park.
The tragic cycle of the movie is that the two are constantly being caught and attempted to be reintegrated into society by benevolent social service workers and other kind hearted souls. Will can manage only a few days of civilized contact before his brokenness compels him to go back to the wilderness with Tom a reluctant and pleading participant.
The two live on the opposite side of a vision between Tom’s hope for a permanent home and stable family and Will’s compulsion to Leave No Trace and live in total isolation. There is no middle ground or compromise for Will, even for his daughter. The compulsion is all that he is and all that he has left.
. The director Debra Granick made a star of Jennifer Lawrence in Winter’s Bone— and she tries to do the same for Thomasin McKenzie here. McKenzie, in a understated and supporting role, manages some grace notes but it is Foster who is clearly the star and better actor.
The inevitable separation, when it comes, shows how far a gap they have to bridge both as characters and actors.