Leave No Trace Blu-ray Review
Going off the reservation
Leave No Trace Film Review
Underrated actor Ben Foster delivers a tremendous study of underlying trauma in this equally underrated gem.Based on Peter Rock's acclaimed book, My Abandonment, and adapted for the screen by indie Director Debra Granik - who gave The Hunger Games' Jennifer Lawrence her impressive breakthrough performance in Winter's Bone - this acute study in fringe existence and PTSD is exquisitely crafted and perfectly acted.
Leave No Trace follows the struggling war veteran, Will (Ben Foster), and his teenage daughter Tom (Thomasin McKenzie), who live in a self-made camp deep inside a public park. Although they occasionally buy provisions - with money Will gets from selling his PTSD medication - when times get tight, meals will amount to little more than wild mushrooms and collected rainwater. It's a sustainable but still very meagre existence; one which Tom is struggling with as she gets older. After their latest shopping trip, the authorities raid the park and Will and Tom are forced to confront the society they left behind, who are now scrutinising their atypical fringe existence.
This acute study in fringe existence and PTSD is exquisitely crafted and perfectly acted.
Granik's almost documentary-like snapshot of buried trauma and two people clutching one another just to survive, is an excellent look behind the curtain of this kind of off-the-reservation life, taking away the rules of society for a more stripped-down subsistence. Its treatment of PTSD plays completely against the standard portrayal of war trauma, barely hinting at echoes of helicopters whipping overhead to wake Will in the night, and becoming revealed only in subtle moments like when the authorities attempt to give him a standardised - and timed - test to see if he's a terrorist.
Foster is utterly invested in the role; on high alert at all times, and deeply buried in his own mind throughout the piece, focused on a life apart, and on the, at times, clashing upbringing of his beloved daughter, the last vestige of a too-soon-departed wife, and the most precious thing in the world to him - but also someone he simply can't free from the same mental prison that he's had to build for himself. Arguably, it's Thomasin though who stands out, the just-turned-18 New Zealander delivering a breakthrough debut performance that is both natural and heartbreaking.
Although the film largely went as unnoticed as these two individuals did with their fringe existence, and as is almost the theme of Foster's film career (he's a complete scene-stealer in everything from Lone Survivor and 3:10 to Yuma to The Finest Hours and Hell or High Water, but his lead efforts like this and Galveston tend to get completely buried), this is a superbly acted, expertly crafted minor little gem which deserves much more focus.
Leave No Trace Blu-ray PictureLeave No Trace is another puzzling, recent HMV-exclusive Blu-ray release (c.f. Mandy), curiously only afforded a wide DVD release, with fans forced to turn to the resurrected retailer to enjoy this indie gem.
Sony's Region Free UK Blu-ray release of Leave No Trace affords it a largely excellent 1080p/AVC-encoded High Definition video presentation framed in the movie's original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 widescreen.
A very good looking video presentation.
Shot sometimes as if it were more of a docu-drama, the digital cinematography on Leave No Trace is, at times, almost too clean, delivering the images without much in the way of faux grain to give it that extra barrier of filmic texturing, but in turn affording some stunning woodland scenery in all of its broad expanse. You might wonder why a more panoramic 2.4:1 ratio wasn't selected, but the taller 'full' widescreen ratio allows a better appreciation for the height of the trees in the park.
Detail enjoys the nuances of the environment; the leaves, the bark and the facial features, only perhaps lapsing slightly in lower level lighting, where black levels too do not seem quite as impenetrable as they should be. The colour scheme benefits from that stunning lush backdrop, with vivid greens dominating the screen. It's not quite as refined as we've come to expect, and makes little effort to belie its limited budget, but that doesn't stop it from being a very good looking video presentation.
Leave No Trace Blu-ray SoundThe accompanying DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track provides a decent aural backdrop, ripe with warm atmospherics and subtle flourishes, even if there is little in the way bombast on offer here - some diggers and chainsaws operating in the park disturbing the very literal peace of both the film and the soundtrack with their noisy interruptions.
A warm and natural track, this is hardly demo territory, but does well with the material.
Dialogue remains well-observed, and is given some priority across the frontal array, whilst the score is almost non-existent, but for a couple of diegetic moments - the evangelical choir erupts across the stage with verve and passion. A warm and natural track, which does a great job bringing the quiet, natural woodland environment to life, this is hardly demo territory, but does well with the material it has.
Leave No Trace Blu-ray ExtrasThere's nothing here; not even a trailer, a fact made worse by the presence of several additional features on the US Blu-ray release from Universal.
Leave No Trace Blu-ray Verdict
A superbly acted, expertly crafted minor little gem which deserves much more focus.
Sony's UK Blu-ray release of Leave No Trace is another unfortunate victim of what appears to be a recent pattern of curtailing wide mainstream Blu-ray releases of smaller features - instead going wide with DVD only and leaving smaller outlets like HMV to offer it by way of an exclusive. Although this is not great news for films like Leave No Trace and Nic Cage's recent curio Mandy, it's not as bad as the fate of some other titles, including one which you might consider a much bigger hit than either of these two 'HMV exclusives' - the fairly high profile, and fairly big-cast Tag - which only secured a UK DVD release, full stop.
Still, fans should hunt down Leave No Trace, which boasts very good video and audio on this Blu-ray release, and comes recommended.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £14.99
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