In the wake of multiple prolonged wars in the Middle East, the last decade of American cinema has frequently grappled with the lives of veterans who return to a country that isn’t willing to offer them much. Some movies have successfully filtered that idea through the crime-thriller genre — Michael Bay’s Ambulance is a standout example in a recent wave of movies about ex-soldiers using their skills to pay their bills by turning to crime. But if you’re looking for something a little less high-octane, you can’t do better than Leave No Trace, which leaves Netflix July 4.
A masterpiece by Oscar-nominated writer-director Debra Granik (Winter’s Bone), Leave No Trace is also the most-reviewed movie with 100% approval on Rotten Tomatoes, beating out Toy Story 2. I don’t put much stock in Rotten Tomatoes, but it’s right on the money with this one.
Leave No Trace follows Will (Ben Foster), a veteran with PTSD, and his teenage daughter Tom (Thomasin McKenzie). The pair live off the land in a public forest reserve outside Portland, keeping to themselves and enjoying a peaceful life together. But when a jogger spots them, park rangers and social services come into the picture and upend their lives.
A thoughtful and deeply sensitive story about family, trauma, community, and responsibility, Leave No Trace shines a spotlight on people on the fringes of society. It’s anchored by fantastic performances that immerse viewers in the central father-daughter relationship — Foster is always reliable for his troubled, quiet intensity, and McKenzie shines as the wise-beyond-her-years Tom. The lush cinematography brings the greens of the Pacific Northwest forests to life.
Leave No Trace is one of my favorite movies of the century, and now it can be one of yours, too. Just make sure to watch it before it leaves Netflix July 4. And if you’re coming to this recommendation after that time, the movie is also available for free with a library card on Hoopla or Kanopy, and for digital rental or purchase on Amazon, Apple TV, and Vudu.