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“Leave No Trace” is another compelling showcase for Ben Foster

There’s no shortage of underrated actors in the movie industry. Frankly, Hollywood is lousy with them. Few are as underrated as Ben Foster, however. Immensely talented and shockingly dedicated to not taking mere paycheck jobs, Foster offers up something special. This week, he again puts forward his huge talents in Leave No Trace, the return to feature filmmaking for Debra Granik, another underrated force. This is a captivating motion picture, one that asks questions without ever offering easy answers. Foster and Granik make a tremendous team, one that creates something deeply memorable. It won’t be for everyone, but in my humble opinion, it’s a must see.

The movie is a character study of the highest order. Bleeker Street Media put out this plot synopsis: “Will (Ben Foster) and his teenage daughter, Tom (Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie), have lived off the grid for years in the forests of Portland, Oregon. When their idyllic life is shattered, both are put into social services. After clashing with their new surroundings, Will and Tom set off on a harrowing journey back to their wild homeland. The film is directed by Debra Granik from a script adapted by Granik and Anne Rosellini.” Foster and McKenzie make this a two hander, though Dale Dickey does co-star. Granik and Rosellini make this about their situation, never judging them. It’s truly beautiful work, especially in concert with Michael McDonough’s cinematography.

There’s so much to like about this film. It’s wonderful to watch unfold, as we learn bits and pieces about Foster’s character Will. The way the movie shows but never tells is prefect. Foster is amazing in the part, while McKenzie showcases that she’s a newcomer to watch out for. Of course, we already knew that Granik was a top tier talent, so this is just more evidence of that fact. Especially with how the film chooses to end, this is a different kind of work. For my money, it’s the sort of thing we should see more of, but sadly don’t get.

Leave No Trace might be a little small of a flick for Oscar, but Foster certainly deserves Academy Award consideration. Campaigns throughout the precursors in Best Picture, Best Director (for Granik), Best Actor (for Foster), Best Actress (for McKenzie), Best Adapted Screenplay (for Granik and Rosellini), and Best Cinematography. Places like the Independent Spirit Awards might go for this one, even if the Academy opts not to. McKenzie could get the occasional Breakthrough citation, while hopefully Granik isn’t completely ignored. As for Foster, he’s going to be an Oscar nominee one day. It’s a matter of when, not if. That’s just a fact.

As a bonus, this is how I would rank Foster’s filmography to date:

10. 3:10 to Yuma
9. Hostiles
8. Rampart
7. Kill Your Darlings
6. Alpha Dog
5. Ain’t Them Bodies Saints
4. Birds of America
3. Leave No Trace
2. The Messenger
1. Hell or High Water

Honorable Mention: Lone Survivor and The Program

This Friday, audiences can see something unique in Leave No Trace. If you’ve loved Granik’s past works, especially Down to the Bone or Winter’s Bone, this is for you. Likewise, Foster fans will get a lyrical and almost silent turn to sink their teeth into. This is a full cinematic meal. Among indies so far this year, it stands tall among the best of them. It may just miss my best of the first half of 2018 list that you’ll see at the end of the week, but it’s not far off. This is well worth seeing, so make time for it and see why I’m so taken with it…

Be sure to check out Leave No Trace, in theaters starting this weekend!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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