Sunday, 17 February 2019

Alternate Best Actor 2018: Ben Foster in Leave No Trace

Ben Foster did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Will in Leave No Trace.

Leave No Trace follows a war veteran and his daughter, Tom (Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie) as they try to live off away from society.

Apparently once Ben Foster was cast in this film he worked with writer/director Debra Granik to remove a large portion of the film's dialogue. This reminds of a story about Hoosiers, where after Gene Hackman was cast he gave that film's director a marked up script with exercised bits of dialogue from that film. Hackman's explanation for the removal was that he could simply convey what had been written through his acting. Foster seems to have engaged in a similar activity which makes sense as I would not be one to hesitate to compare to Hackman. Both actors are favorites of mine, however there is similarity in performance style often, as their work very much strives to exist within the material, and a consistency in terms of the intense devotion of their work. The strength of this comparison only seems to grow as Foster gets older. The idea for both seems to just get the right to the truth of their role, though in turn they are rather underrated within the general public, Hackman, wrongly, not being seen on the level of the other "radical" leading actors of the seventies like Pacino and De Niro, and Foster still failing to receive the sort of recognition so many of his contemporaries have found at this point. His work in Leave No Trace, is very much almost a refinement of a raw talent as that removal of material, leaves almost the entirety of the character to Foster.

Although I will say they perhaps pared down the script perhaps just a bit more than they needed to, I do like the film quite a great deal but I don't think a little additional information would necessarily have been detrimental to the narrative. Foster's work however is more than up to essentially taking upon the task of covering everything that is missing from the dialogue to try to explain to us the man that is Will. The man who in the opening of the film we find him in a little shelter with his daughter within a national park, illegally. Foster has become known for his intense characters and this is another one of these characters. As I've often written though, a great actor is as much defined by how they can make a similar characters distinct just as they can handle very different roles. Foster proves his measure here in portraying a different type of intense man, which is notable since Foster even has already portrayed a war veteran in The Messenger. Where there though Foster portrayed more so the controlled rawness of a recent experience, here Foster is able to convincingly portray a man the years removed from the war. His Will is a man who more than anything would like to forget. In that we see this in his interactions with his daughter. He portrays just a genuine father's warmth with McKenzie, and the two have an unassuming yet lovely chemistry together. They clearly love each other however this is never portrayed as a simplistic idea.

Foster shows the right sort of father's concern and teaching spirit in his interactions. He finds just the right middle ground in a firm delivery but always with this undercurrent of warmth within it of a man who unquestionably loves his daughter. In this approach Foster finds the man who has been caring for his daughter since he lost his wife as well as has been training with her to survive in an atypical living experience. There is the right bluntness in his manner with her as the idea of their circumstances is always present even in their most earnest moments of affection. Foster realizes the two sides and in that as he manages to bring to life the idea of that he's been nothing but a good father to Tom, but also that there has certainly been a burden within this existence all the same. Foster is able to convey what likely brought both of them there in this approach. As there is the articulation of concern for the outsiders finding them but within these quiet moments of calm. In these moments Foster is able to grant us a man who is hiding away from this all with the one person that he seems as though he can connect to. This person being his daughter where both McKenzie and Foster are able to create this unquestioned connection between the two. Their love for one another is made to be a constant, and there are not a lot of words to this, but rather just in their moments of interaction, which in this instance say more than enough.

We are granted just a bit more to Will when the two are caught and brought to be evaluated by social workers. Foster has a downright amazing scene where Will is asked to answer a series of true or false questions that gauge his mental state. Foster's performance is subtle, and absolutely brilliant in the way he conveys the thoughts going through his head. This being when initially the questions of a more overt potentially deranged person there is a confusion in him, that slowly falls into a severe discontent as some of the questions relating to having some severe trauma, that he has not recovered from, and quickly relate towards his subdued distress. Foster shows a man being forced to really evaluate himself in the moment and is haunting in creating the sense of pain in a man who has to be forced to face, at least in some way, the horrors of his mind. His performance is wholly haunting in the moment because we get two separate senses of the man that Foster is able to realize who Will was and currently now is. In just the way he says he "used to" to work well as a team, Foster is able to show that at one time Will was a healthy man, unlike many of the on edge characters Foster typically plays. Foster is powerful then by showing how terrible the struggle in the man is. Foster portrays that the intensity here is something Will is burdened by, not even as the man he truly is, but rather created through whatever horrors he may have faced in the war.

Again the film still doesn't take long to speak what Will is going through, as he and Tom are given a home and Will is given a job, as well as a chance to renter society.  Foster is great in these settlement scenes as initially in his interactions with others we see a subdued man, still troubled, but at least with the sense of the attempt to try to exist in the world. In a short amount of time, within the idea of dealing with any of the random nonsense of basic society, Foster is again fantastic in showing the immediately growing discontent. There's an especially important moment where Tom comes to Will with her concerns of what others will think of her when they go to school. In this moment Foster does not portray a loving father, but rather a man on edge as his face expresses this strict hatred to even the speaking of the idea. Foster properly doesn't portray this as something towards Tom, but rather in this delivery just Foster is able to convey the idea of how anything from society, that are beyond just basic survival, is this horrible struggle for him to deal with. Foster in his reactions conveys this growing unease not of a man who feels he's above it all, but rather is able to show a man who mentally is just simply unable to take what it means to be part of society. Although it is not explained in words, Foster is able to express entirely what it is that pushes Will to wish to hide away, both in the way he reacts with such internalized distress in his eyes in the moments that reminds him of his old wounds, but also just the way the sort of BS/disinterest of society is no longer something he can tolerate.

 It is then just a natural reaction as Will forces Tom, who was settling into society, to move again. The two continue their trek and again Foster is create in conveying the paranoia in these sequences as Will is completely unstable in what is essentially the "open" area of society. Eventually, with Will almost dying, they find a shelter again, though once again in society even if it is a very secluded one. Foster again realizes powerfully the state of hollowness in Will's eyes as though he is trying so desperately to separate himself from his demons but again being in such a place still keeps his mind painfully occupied. Will again wishes to leave, but now Tom refuses to go on recognizing that she is not broken in the way her father is. Their final scene together is the most expressive moment in the film, and not at all wasted in this sense. Every moment that we've seen them together builds to this scene, and it feels wholly earned as the daughter decides to leave her father. Foster's performance in this scene is absolutely heartbreaking as in the moment he unleashes in his breakdown a moment not defined by the horrors of his mind, but rather the sense of losing his daughter. It is a reaction of pure love, rather than any sort of desperation, as he conveys, again nearly without words fully this moment of understanding between father and daughter as they say goodbye. This is an outstanding turn by Ben Foster, and I'll fully accept my broken recordness when it comes to his work. This is a unique challenge and in turn achievement by him though as he is able to vividly create this portrait of a wounded war veteran, with so few words, and even an often distant perspective, almost entirely through his considerable ability as a performer.

53 comments:

Matt Mustin said...

Probably one of the most underrated movies of the year, I think. Foster is amazing here. It's interesting though that he gave two great performances in 2018 but only this movie is actually worth watching.

Calvin Law said...

Another great performance. Wish this could’ve gotten the love that Winter’s Bone did but ah well. His breakdown scenes were so brilliantly portrayed with the pared down screenplay/characterisation. Completely agree on every regard except I didn’t have your reservations about the screenplay.

I hope McKenzie will still be in your top 5. She’s easily my win in lead even with the strength of the year.

Bryan L. said...

I hope the day comes where we see another Foster review on here, but with the subtitle "Ben Foster received his first Oscar nomination for..."

Louis Morgan said...

Eighth Grade wins Original at WGA, which is great for two reasons:

One being even though I didn't love it as much as some, it was the most deserving in that lineup, and number two it helps The Favourite secure its front runner spot in that category next Sunday.

Calvin:

Well I should say in regards to the screenplay it's a matter where I understand other people's reservations regarding the minimalist approach, while I do not share that view.

Bryan L. said...

Matt: Agreed, and I was quite looking forward to Galveston. Shame.

Robert MacFarlane said...

For me he was almost... too muted? I don’t know, I was more interested with what McKenzie was doing with her work throughout.

Emi Grant said...

A Ben Foster review and Eighth Grade wins WGA? Today's a great day.

Louis: Thoughts on Granik's direction and the film's cinematography?

Matt Mustin said...

Bryan L: Yeah, I watched Galveston last night. I think. I can barely remember it.

Charles H said...

Brilliant subtle work by both Foster and Mackenzie. This is upper Ben Foster for me. Also, it's a shame the buzz for this film died out since this was probably the closest he came to a nomination.

Matt Mustin said...

Charles H: I think Hell or High Water is the closest he's come to a nomination.

Charles H said...

Matt: I say Leave No Trace because they considered Bridges supporting as well & i highly doubt they would've given Hell or High Water two supporting nominations.

Bryan L. said...

Matt: I hope Foster and Fanning team up for a better film in the future, since I did like that pairing.

Charles: Matt is correct: he had a better chance for Hell or High Water, since they did like that film a fair bit.

Matt Mustin said...

But Foster at least showed up in some circles for Hell or High Water, and I don't think he did for this.

Bryan L. said...

Charles: Also, this film never really gained traction on the road towards the Oscars. And they nominated Harrelson & Rockwell in the same category a year later, so they could've done it that time around as well.

Either way though...the wait for Fosters first nom continues...

Matt Mustin said...

I wouldn't be surprised if he ends up being somebody like Sam Rockwell or Christian Bale where the first time he finally gets nominated he also wins.

Bryan L. said...

Although...this film theoretically could have been his first nom, since Winter's Bone was Jennifer Lawrence's breakout, and Thomasin Mackenzie had a similar narrative with her performance here. Perhaps Foster could've been the John Hawkes of sorts for this awards season...

Anonymous said...

IF Foster had ran supporting, I think he could've been nominated here. I actually think McKenzie running supporting ruined her chances since it was just too big of a pill to swallow.

Charles H said...

Yeah, i could've totally seen Foster going supporting and have been nominated. Especially since supporting had some room to breathe.

Louis Morgan said...

Can You Ever Forgive Me? wins Adapted at WGA. Amazing choice of winners, and crazy that both were such upsets. Such great upsets though.

Matt Mustin said...

See, this doesn't help my predictions, because Adapted Screenplay is like the one category that I have no idea about. They went with the right choice, and I hope the Academy does the same, but I don't know.

Bryan L. said...

Matt: I think the Academy might feel that they "owe" Spike Lee, so Blackkklansman is/was my prediction there, but now...

Anonymous said...

Louis: What are your thoughts on the production design of the green mile and shawshank redemption

Bryan L. said...

Louis: What type of film do you envision these combinations of actors starring in? Just for fun.

The 1960s Blondes (Blanchett, Kidman, Watts, Swinton)

The Last True Movie Stars (Dicaprio, Cruise, Hanks, Denzel)

Tahmeed Chowdhury said...

Louis: Your thoughts on the direction of Your Name.

RatedRStar said...

Ben Foster is still young so he will have a chance at some point of an Oscar nomination eventually, might be quite while away though.

RatedRStar said...

Saw the Happy Death Day sequel as well, complete disappointment compared to the first one.

RatedRStar said...

Louis: You know how on Siskel and Ebert they do the annual "We pick the winners" the first one I remember was 1982 that appeared, do you know if they did any before or was 1982 the first one? I ask this because even though it hasn't appeared on the new site yet (the person uploads so frequently its amazing) when I originally saw the 1982 version I dont think they mentioned it as the first time.

Tahmeed Chowdhury said...

If the Academy (hopefully) lines up with BAFTA, I can see The Favourite winning Original Screenplay, Actress and Supporting Actress.

BRAZINTERMA said...

Louis
What is the overall rating for best supporting actress and best lead actress of 2018?

Anonymous said...

Louis: Is Foster’s work here, for you, one of the most muted and minimalist you’ve ever seen in a film?

And your cast choices for a 50s Leave no Trace?

Bryan L. said...

Tahmeed: I could see Supporting Actress and Best Original Screenplay winning the Oscar. As for Best Actress, I'm afraid not, since Close has the "overdue" narrative.

Emi Grant said...

Bryan L: Olivia might still be a potential upset, though.

Tahmeed Chowdhury said...

Had Colman won the Golden Globe for Drama, I'd say she was on track to winning the same way Affleck beat Denzel 2016.

Louis Morgan said...

Emi Grant:

Granik's direction is actually rather fascinating as it is this other side of the coin to her work in Winter's Bone. Both seek to give a honest expression of sort of a forgotten present day of American, but when depicts this in as a dark and harsh experience, whereas the other it is a welcoming even not even warm experience. Now Granik's work in both examples does this in rather subdued but effective way. Her work very much seeks a sense of reality in each instance, with some nearly documentary style choices at times, though thankfully she avoids over doing this, which is always a risk. She nicely keeps a cinematic refinement while still granting that feel nonetheless, which is a tricky endeavor that she pulls off pretty wonderfully here. I will say her perhaps most overt use of this yin-yang dynamic, is in the use of Dale Dickey, from the monster she was in her previous film to warm loving character here. This approach though overall is terrific, along with her typical style here that is to make a film largely without music, and allows really performances to be the driving force of emotional moments. Again though, this can easily be an overused idea if the director is too distant in these scenes, but Granik's touches, while subtle, often help to carry a far greater impact towards the emotional moments involving her characters.

Michael McDonugh's cinematography plays into the best qualities of Granik's direction in this film. This is as it is easy to envision this film as a different type of Indie, where there's bad lighting, constant shaky cam, and without sense of aesthetic for the sake of "realism". Thankfully Granik seems to know that realism can be attained without sacrificing cinematic quality, and that is shown in her use of McDonough's work. Work that is naturalistic in lighting, framing and composition. Naturalistic, but only in the sense it feels that way. There was clearly a sense, not that you take notice of this when watching the film, great care was brought within the cinematography, to create a beautiful looking film, that realizes the environments so well, while never becoming too pristine for the tone, but also never confusing realistic with bad looking.

Anonymous:

The production design for both films is great in really establishing a similar period aesthetic. It goes, effectively, for this sort of general pristine for the period, though with the right vividness to every setting. It is not overly flashy work, but really just kind of "perfect" element of each film. As it feels just as it should be in bringing enough attention to itself in the appearance, but without ever distracting given the nature of each drama.

Louis Morgan said...

Bryan:

The Blondes - (Well I'd have to assume then some sort of Hitchcockian style thriller, Kidman as the wrong woman, with Watts as her best friend, trying to solve some sort of mystery involving the "right" woman with Blanchett, and perhaps Swinton as the detective trying to uncover it all.)

The movie stars - (Ideally some sort of lighter, more action oriented, Heat esque thriller, with DiCaprio as the dogged detective, Cruise the clever criminal working with Hanks as some sort of Fence, and Washington as Cruise's partner.)

Tahmeed:

An interesting question to look at the work of a director of an animated film, which does have a rather different task in terms of creating the film. This is as it forces the main creative decisions to be before the real production begins, and almost everything has to be set to just right. This is why there is usually so much ample unused ideas for any good animated film. This is as the director loses a certain degree of control earlier, to the point Shinkai felt unsatisfied by the final product, but I'll hold that to perfectionism. As the direction of his work, in refining the product before the animation was incredible, though I do have to wonder what he felt was missing in the animation. Any who the film works within the idea of this "realistic" anime, which is right up my alley by the way, and in that sense his direction of the story is very much making it wholly plausible in a live action film. This is even in the use of animation, which while beautiful and fluid, is very much "shot" like a live action film. In the choices effectively evoke this grandiose live action romance, and purposeful avoidance it seems of the more impossible techniques possible with animation. I'd say his choices to try to maintain a reality, within the animation, even with the fantastical plot device, were fantastic choices, in granting an unassuming honesty to the material, making the emotional nature of the story particularly potent. If I were to have criticism, I'd say he perhaps overuses his soundtrack just a touch, but never to the point of true distraction. This is especially easy to overlook with so many ingenious choices such as the dual montages or the scenes where he really pulls back towards silence such in the meeting scene.

RatedRStar:

They didn't do an official "If We Picked the Winners" but they did something similar for the 77 Oscar nominees. They went over the nominees and stated their favorites in the categories, and even gave out their "worst nomination" award.

BRAZINTERMA Prêmio Fictício:

Still want to try to catch up with just a few more performances first.

Anonymous:

"Most" is a strong word, he is contemporary of Ryan Gosling after all, but it is certainly a turn in that vein.

50's:

Will: Ralph Meeker
Tom: Natalie Wood

BRAZINTERMA said...

Then the post of overall rating for best supporting actress and best lead actress will be posted on "Best Actor Alternate 2018: Results"?

Bryan L. said...

Louis: Speaking of Hanks, do you think he'd be a good fit for a 90s Tom Joad and a 2010s Max Schumacher?

Tahmeed Chowdhury said...

Louis: Shinkai actually is a perfectionist, his earlier films, such as The Garden of Words and Five Centimetres Per Second, arguably have animation of even higher quality than Your Name. However, it must be said that Your Name is easily his best screenplay, as it has the most cohesive plot.

Louis Morgan said...

BRAZINTERMA Prêmio Fictício:

Yes.

Bryan:

Both examples he wouldn't be my first choice, only because there is an inherent optimism in his screen presence, much like Jimmy Stewart's, that doesn't make it ideal. Having said that Stewart excelled with some nihilistic roles, and I do think Hanks could've potentially pulled both off.

Tahmeed:

Well that makes sense, I would say the film's screenplay is probably its greatest asset.

Calvin Law said...

In lieu of the past few comment sections:

1970s Leave No Trace directed by Bob Rafelson
Will: Gene Hackman
Tom: Jodie Foster
Dale: Penelope Allen

2010s Scarecrow directed by Lee Chang-Dong
Max: Dave Bautista
Lionel: Steven Yeun

2010s Network directed by Armando Iannucci
Max: Tom Hanks
Diana: Claire Foy
Howard: Mark Rylance
Hackett: Riz Ahmed
Jensen: Simon Russell Beale
Louise: Felicity Montagu

2000s Giant directed by John Curran
Leslie: Nicole Kidman
Jordan: Edward Norton
Jett: Glenn Howerton

Calvin Law said...

Oh, and

2010s East of Eden directed by David Gordon Green
Cal: Will Poulter
Adam: J.K. Simmons (perfection if I may say)
Abra: Daisy Ridley
Kate: Jacki Weaver
Sam: Danny McBride

2010s From Here to Eternity directed by Steve McQueen
Milton: Michael Fassbender
Prewitt: Michael B. Jordan
Karen: Elizabeth Debicki
Alma: Zoe Kazan
Angelo: Daniel Kaluuya
Fatso: Dave Bautista
Holmes: John Carroll Lynch

Calvin Law said...

Actually Chiwetel Ejiofor instead of Fassbender.

Bryan L. said...

Calvin: I think you need someone a bit more "macho" for Milton, so I'd lean towards a Joel Edgerton or Jon Bernthal.

Jordan as Prewitt sounds like an interesting subversion of his Creed. Debicki is too perfect for Alma, though I'd opt for Boyega as the Angelo equivalent.

Lynch seems like a more natural fit for Fatso, though he could pull off Holmes as well I think.

Calvin Law said...

Actually yeah Boyega would be great. I cast Debicki as Karen not Alma, but yeah Kazan fits your criteria better.

Bryan L. said...

Calvin: Chiwetel sounds fine too actually, if you want to lean in that direction.

Bryan L. said...

Calvin: Oh that was my mistake. I actually did mean Debicki as Karen, since she could pull off the "sultriness" for the role, while Kazan would be a natural fit for Alma.

Matt Mustin said...

FINALLY saw Blade Runner 2049, and it may not surprise you to find that I agree with all of you. I loved it, in fact I think it's overtaken The Shape of Water as my favourite film of 2017. I also feel comfortable calling it the single best shot film of the decade.

Bryan L. said...

Matt: Glad you loved it! Your ratings for the cast?

Matt Mustin said...

Bryan L:
Gosling-5
Ford-4.5
de Armas-5
Hoek-5
Leto-3.5
Wright-4
Bautista-3.5
Juri-4
Davis-3.5

Matt Mustin said...

Also, the score should've been in awards contention, and I'm not really sure why it wasn't.

Calvin Law said...

Matt: probably the use of pre-existing music which is a stupid rule anyway.

Bryan L. said...

Matt: Mine would be the same as yours, though I have Leto as a 4. Its a great ensemble, and Hoeks and Gosling are my respective wins for that year.

And I regularly listen to "Sea Wall" and of course, "Tears in the Rain."

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