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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Leave No Trace (Blu-ray)
Leave No Trace (Blu-ray)
Universal // PG // October 2, 2018 // Region A
List Price: $16.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Randy Miller III | posted October 1, 2018 | E-mail the Author

Released to massive acclaim -- which includes, as of this review, a perfect rating on Rotten Tomatoes -- Debra Granik's Leave No Trace (2018) is an arresting and effective family drama with a unique, captivating atmosphere. Ben Foster stars as Will, a war veteran struggling with PTSD, who's been living in vast public parks near Portland, Oregon for quite some time. He's not alone: Will has a teenage daughter, Tom (Thomasin McKenzie), who has been raised to survive their unique environment. They operate like a well-oiled machine, mostly living off the land but occasionally hiking into town for groceries or a visit to the VA hospital, where Will is issued prescription drugs which he sells to other veterans. Not an ideal existence for most people, but this small family unit seems perfectly happy in their own little bubble.

Soon enough, the bubble bursts: Tom is spotted by a jogger and, days later, state police officers track down their camp. Will is handcuffed, and they're placed in social services. On the surface, things turn out all right: the father and daughter are given food and lodging at a local tree farm in exchange for going to work and school...but as much as Tom seems to fit in with the 4H crowd, Will just isn't comfortable in their new environment. He's only happy outdoors without a phone, TV, or work schedule, and Tom wants to please her dad so they eventually leave for greener pastures. But with no long-term plan and far from the "comforts" of their Portland park, things get a lot darker before they're bright again.

Literally and figuratively, Leave No Trace is well off the beaten path of traditional family dramas. This is a restrained, slow-burning, and intimate story with great performances and a truly interesting premise that easily burrows its way into a part of your brain that isn't always stimulated by the genre. I appreciate its willingness to consider both sides of the argument: one that rejects modern life and its trappings, and another that recognizes our biological need to operate as part of a community. There's a strong sense of humanity on display here: help is available around every corner, there's an inherent goodness behind almost every gesture, and no traditional villain is waiting at the end. Leave No Trace almost, almost finds the sweet spot for Will and Tom in the third act: a close-knit group of RV dwellers who accept them after one suffers a terrible injury. But, as we're reminded, just because help is available doesn't mean it will be accepted.

As a whole, Leave No Trace is a captivating and well-acted drama whose performances, story, music, and cinematography manage to create something slightly more than the sum of their parts. Although I'll admit that this film doesn't quite say as much as it could have (not to mention it suffers from a few suspiciously convenient plot developments), it inarguably covers a good amount of new ground for the genre and easily stands as one of this year's best surprises. Debra Granik, who previously cemented or launched the careers of Vera Farmiga and Jennifer Lawrence in Down the the Bone and Winter's Bone, showcases another formidable young talent in Thomasin McKenzie, while Foster is as good as ever in a role much more dialed back than usual. Leave No Trace is simply rock-solid treatment of great source material (in this case, Peter Rock's 2010 novel My Abandonement) and is certainly worth watching if you haven't already. Universal's Blu-ray package offers a great A/V presentation, but unfortunately comes up a little short on bonus features.

Presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, Leave No Trace looks very good to excellent; despite its low budget and digital pedigree, the dense outdoor scenes frequently showcase a strong amount of image detail and textures. Indoor scenes are normally shot in low or natural light and, while there's a small amount of banding and black crush on display at times, many of these small issues may be baked into the source material. The colors are frequently lush and well-saturated while often favoring a slightly green tint, while other scenes are less saturated for dramatic effect. Digital imperfections such as edge enhancement, artifacts, and excessive noise reduction could not be spotted along the way. Overall, Universal's Blu-ray handles everything quite well and, aside from the mild issues mentioned earlier, this is a beautiful looking film from start to finish. I can't imagine any fans or first-timers finding much of anything to complain about here.

NOTE: The images featured on this page do not necessarily represent the title under review.

Likewise, the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix has a terrific presence but is dialed back quite a bit during many stretches, which gives the film a wonderfully open sound stage during the many outdoor sequences. Dialogue is perfectly crisp and clear with several well-placed uses of strong channel separation and low-frequency effects to amplify some of the more dramatic moments. Dickon Hinchliffe's original score is very sparse but makes its presence known without shouting for attention. Overall, this is an effective and appropriate mix that, aside from a bump to Atmos or 7.1, is not likely to be improved. Optional English (SDH) and Spanish subtitles are included during the film and most of the extras.

Presented in Universal's typical no-frills style, the interface is smooth and well organized with separate options for chapter selection, audio/subtitle setup, and bonus features. This one-disc release is packaged in a standard keepcase with a Digital Copy redemption code and a matching slipcover that's similar to the original poster...but with bad Photoshop.

What's here is great -- it's unfortunate that we couldn't get more. "Creating Leave No Trace" (3 minutes) offers an all-too-brief look at the location and filming process, featuring short EPK-style interviews with key cast and crew members. Of greater interest is a collection of five Behind the Scenes Vignettes (16 minutes total) that highlight some of the survival experts and other skilled workers who trained Ben Foster and Thomasin McKenzie during production. Two Deleted Scenes (3 minutes total) feature Tom speaking with a city girl and at a stable; both are fine enough and may as well have been left in. Finally, a self-playing Location Scout Photo Gallery (5 minutes) features several dozen pictures taken during the planning stages. The film's excellent (and spoiler-heavy) trailer is not included, but you can watch it here.

Debra Granik's deeply affecting Leave No Trace casts a truly unique spell with memorable characters, sparse music, and outstanding locales that create a strong and lasting atmosphere. Ben Foster and newcomer Thomasin McKenzie carry most of the emotional weight with ease and, although it seems like the film should ultimately say a little more than it actually does, there's a solid amount of uncharted territory here that makes this an unconventional but satisfying family drama. While it's a bit heavier than the PG rating implies and primarily deals with adult topics, Leave No Trace should certainly appeal to teenage audiences as well. Universal's Blu-ray package offers a small but appreciated amount of support for the main feature, serving up an excellent A/V presentation but, sadly, almost nothing in the way of substantial bonus features. It's still firmly Recommended to interested parties, although a rental might be enough for some.

Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey by day and film reviewer by night. He also does freelance design work and runs a website or two. In his free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs, and writing in third person.

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