October 30, 2018 – The wilderness can have a healing influence on a person with a troubled mind. This movie is about a man who carries this idea to extremes in an effort to escape the demons of war, and brings his reluctant young daughter along with him.
Writer/director Debra Granik (“Winter's Bone”) brings us this tale of a restless mind (based on the novel “My Abandonment” by Peter Rock) set in the rugged rain-soaked mountains of the Pacific Northwest. Troubled veteran Will (played by Ben Foster of “Hell or High Water”) and his teenaged daughter, Tom (Thomasin McKenzie of “Consent: The Louise Nicholas Story”) are living on public land near Portland, Oregon (scenes reportedly filmed at Eagle Fern Park in Clackamas County, Oregon) and hiding from everyone.
Will and Tom make trips into town for food and other supplies. They also trade with other troubled vets who are living in primitive tent cities closer to town. There are indications that Will is taking anti-anxiety drugs. He wakes up at night with nightmares. Eventually, Will and Tom are spotted and chased down by police with dogs.
Police and Veterans Administration officials try to relocate Will and Tom to a rural area where Will works on a tree farm and Tom is to be enrolled in school. For the first time in a long time, they have a house to live in. But Will is uneasy. The sound of helicopters used at the tree farm bother him and he feels trapped in this setting. Despite objections from Tom, he wants to escape.
Tom is growing up and has her own goals. She wants to meet with others her own age and to have a normal life. At some point, she is going to have to go her own way, despite her love for her father. There are several scenes in the movie where Tom interacts with other teenagers. They also attend a church service, where they see a performance of dancers (For His Glory Dance Troupe of Klamath Falls). Tom befriends a local boy who meets her at presentation about raising and showing rabbits in competition.
Tom and Will stay for a time at a forest campsite with other campers living in motor homes and travel trailers. They are befriended by a kindly woman, Dale (Dale Dickey of “Winter's Bone”). Campers form a circle and sing songs (one of the musicians is Michael Hurley, who performs one of his own songs, “O My Stars,” along with another Oregon-based musician, Marisa Anderson.). Tom feels quite at ease there, and wants to stay, but Will feels trapped again and wants to leave.
A number of non-actors appear in the movie, basically playing themselves. There are two ways to look at this. It gives the movie an air of authenticity, but on the other hand, it can be awkward for non-actors when they try to act, and that awkwardness comes across in the film. That works for some viewers, but it didn't work for me.
The principle actors, Ben Foster, Thomasin McKenzie and Dale Dickey give very convincing performances. The cinematography by Michael McDonough (“Starred Up”) in what must have been some very difficult conditions, captures the wild outdoors, as well as the claustrophobic indoor scenes, as seen through Will's eyes. The writing and direction by Debra Granik is sharp and sure. This has the lean, spare look of a low-budget independent film, but it is emotionally rich and powerful. This film rates a B.
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