When I first learned about this film, I was interested in it for the family dynamics and drama. It sounded like one of those films where while it isn’t sensational or full of huge effects, it does have an emotional story and fantastic plot. I’ve also seen Phoenix born Haley Lu Richardson in other films and was sure she’d be excellent in this movie as well. After watching the movie for review, I wasn’t incorrect. The acting is powerful, emotional, and even wrenching at times, the landscape is beautiful and used to great effect, and the plot is dramatic.
Montana Story is a drama film written and directed by Scott McGehee and David Siegel. In the movie, Cal (Owen Teague) returns home to care for his ailing father. Assisted by Valentina (Kimberly Guerrero), who’s worked for his father for years, her son, Joey (Asivak Koostachin), and nurse Ace (Gilbert Owuor), he learns he must deal with the financial mess his father, once a lawyer, has left behind. Cal is soon joined by his estranged sister Erin (Haley Lu Richardson) as she comes to make peace before their father dies, but the pair must work on their unresolved issues and the bitter family legacy they both share.
The writing in this film is beautiful. Most of the plot deals with the family drama, the unresolved issues between the two siblings, and the emotions brought up by being near their father after years. Their father has not treated either of them kindly, and each of them deals with those emotions differently. Erin ran away from home, but Cal has attempted to live his own life, despite missing his older sister. The plot does an exquisite job of highlighting the emotions between the pair and their father in an honest, authentic manner, with real feeling and pathos. While it is a quiet family drama, the emotions behind the drama are well portrayed and wrenching at times.
Another aspect that the movie depicts well is the landscape, both the beautiful portions and the uglier aspects of Montana. Montana Story gives us a very different view of the state, including the idea that Yellowstone isn’t perfect or completely represents all there is to the area. We learn about the strip mining that occurred. There is also the poverty that is dealt with by the native population. In addition, using actors of authentic Native heritage adds to the sincere tone of the film, and the Native characters are treated as humans, not as stereotypes. And the film does a profoundly excellent job of showing us the ugly underbelly of both the environmental impacts in the area as well as the emotional entanglements in the movie.
The performances are the highlight of the film. Haley Lu Richardson as Erin is emotional and wrenching, and her performance is genuine. The dynamic between her and Owen Teague playing Cal is realistic, and both have moments when they shine in their respective roles. Owen Teague plays the character of Cal as quietly hurting over the situation, both his estrangement with his sister, his role in her hurt and his father’s ailment. He is exceptionally skilled at portraying subtle emotions. Gilbert Ouwo as Ace is beautifully graceful as their father’s caregiver. He gives a portrayal full of wisdom and caring. Kimberly Guerrero is warm as Valentina, her concerns genuine and her caring evident for the entire family. Asivak Koostachin as Joey is genial but also portrays concern over his mother well. Even the secondary characters give us great performances.
The only real weakness is the slowness of the story. It takes time to build the conflict and drama in the film, but the pacing brings the strife to a head at the perfect time. It is not for everyone, either. It is very character-driven and is less about the action and more about the entanglements between the siblings and their emotions. But if you enjoy this type of film, I think you will like the movie.
If you like films about family drama and don’t mind a quieter film, I think you will enjoy the movie. It also gives us, I feel, a more balanced view of the landscape, the people, and the state of Montana. I love that there are Native performers included in the film, and the acting is beautiful. The ending is perfect and heartwarming. I truly enjoyed the whole cast and their performances.
Rating: 4 out of 5 horses.
From the acclaimed writer/directors Scott McGehee and David Siegel (WHAT MAISIE KNEW, THE DEEP END) comes a neo-Western with an emotional tremor hiding beneath it. Two estranged siblings (Haley Lu Richardson, Owen Teague) return home to the sprawling ranch they once knew and loved, confronting a deep and bitter family legacy against a mythic American backdrop. MONTANA STORY opens in theaters on Friday, May 20, 2022.
ONE-LINER: Two estranged siblings return home to the sprawling ranch they once knew and loved, confronting a deep and bitter family legacy against a mythic American backdrop.