Kiwi actress Thomasin McKenzie's superlative performance in Leave No Trace

by James Robins / 05 September, 2018
RelatedArticlesModule - Leave No Trace Thomasin McKenzie

With her quiet poignancy, Thomasin McKenzie anchors the understated Leave No Trace.

It’s quiet out there, in the forest. Under verdant canopy, there are only chirping birds, low growls of wild dogs and the muttering of a father and daughter who have made their home in the wild: bearded and kindly Will (Ben Foster) and his teenage daughter Tom (Thomasin McKenzie). Every now and again, the pair venture on foot into the city for supplies. As they draw nearer, the clutter and din of society get louder – traffic roars, the buzz of a hospital. Better to stay where it’s peaceful and undisturbed.

Director Debra Granik has form in isolated backwaters, with 2010’s superb Winter’s Bone, and the first act of Leave No Trace skilfully sketches routines without much dialogue. Indeed, her modest, hushed and unassuming film is a fine demonstration of what can be clearly stated without being said.

Will is a military veteran, and his disturbed sleep hints at a troubled mind. The forest is not necessarily an idyll, but it is safe – until society disturbs that peace with its unspoken expectations about how we’re supposed to live. To wish to disappear, and live contentedly away from the noise, can only look suspicious. Authorities come with their paperwork, tedious bureaucracy and questions.

“Where’s your home?” someone asks Tom. “With my dad,” she states flatly. At first, this is true. You wouldn’t doubt that she’d follow her damaged old man to the ends of the Earth, initially. But she is not plagued by the same demons; her need to disappear is not as strong. There will be a severing, and it will be devastating.

The story (from Peter Rock’s novel My Abandonment) centres on Tom’s adaptation to a new world, and in this, 17-year-old New Zealand actor Thomasin McKenzie is superlative. Her voice can be severe when needed, and yet it often betrays a fundamental uncertainty. And when the film’s few poignant moments fall to her, when all dramatic weight is placed on her shoulders, it is not the brimming tears that will undo you, but the subtle quiver of her bottom lip. Just as Winter’s Bone made a career for Jennifer Lawrence, one can’t help thinking that McKenzie’s, after such fine work in Leave No Trace, could be just as rich.

IN CINEMAS NOW

★★★★

Video: Bleecker Street

This article was first published in the September 8, 2018 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

Latest

The enduring sandwich: What's not to like about bread and fillings?
94342 2018-09-23 00:00:00Z Food

The enduring sandwich: What's not to like about br…

by Margo White

Despite an apparent backlash against bread – against carbohydrates and gluten – the sandwich endures.

Read more
Humanity is on 'the highway to digital dictatorship', says Yuval Noah Harari
96527 2018-09-22 00:00:00Z Social issues

Humanity is on 'the highway to digital dictatorshi…

by Andrew Anthony

The author of worldwide bestsellers Sapiens and Homo Deus says our free will is at stake. We talk to Yuval Noah Harari about his new book.

Read more
Why there's no 'clash of civilisations' between Islam and the West
96558 2018-09-22 00:00:00Z Social issues

Why there's no 'clash of civilisations' between Is…

by Yuval Noah Harari

There is just one civilisation in the world, writes Yuval Noah Harari, and the West and Islam are joint participants in it.

Read more
The Kiwi cicada expert who's just 11 years old
94985 2018-09-22 00:00:00Z Science

The Kiwi cicada expert who's just 11 years old

by Ken Downie

Hamilton entomologist Olly Hills isn’t in high school yet, but he’s already a world expert – and he wrote a book.

Read more
Thackeray's Vanity Fair gets a clever update for the millenial age
96633 2018-09-22 00:00:00Z Television

Thackeray's Vanity Fair gets a clever update for t…

by Russell Brown

A new TV version of William Makepeace Thackeray’s 19th-century satirical novel taps into today's celebrity-Instagram culture.

Read more
The debate over the Serena Williams controversy was a dialogue of the deaf
96659 2018-09-22 00:00:00Z Sport

The debate over the Serena Williams controversy wa…

by Paul Thomas

Serena Williams’ US Open outburst was unbecoming but the umpire made a mess of his response.

Read more
The classical blokes saluting unsung women composers
96670 2018-09-21 14:16:06Z Music

The classical blokes saluting unsung women compose…

by The Listener

The suffrage celebrations get a soundtrack from all-male ensemble NZTrio.

Read more
Labour MPs stand behind Jacinda Ardern's action on Meka Whaitiri
96630 2018-09-21 07:31:30Z Politics

Labour MPs stand behind Jacinda Ardern's action on…

by Gia Garrick

The public will have to wait to see a report into an assault claim against MP Meka Whaitiri, who was yesterday stripped of her ministerial portfolios.

Read more