Synopsis: 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.
Stars: Haley Lu Richardson, Owen Teague, Gilbert Owuor, Kimberly Guerrero, Asivak Koostachin, Eugene Brave Rock, Rob Story, John Ludin, Kate Britton
Director: Scott McGehee and David Siegel
Running Length: 113 minutes
TMMM Score: (5/10)
Review: Pre-pandemic, theaters would have been able to dedicate room for a small movie like Montana Story. It might not have played in the theater with the most seats or drawn as many viewers on opening weekend as the big studio film that occupied the other screens down the hall, but the target audience would eventually have found their way. In today’s climate, the movie-goer that is right for this quiet picture will have trouble locating a showing in their area…if it’s even playing at all. That’s a shame, too, because as promising as the box office returns have been for old-fashioned fare like Top Gun: Maverick and Downton Abbey: A New Era, the age of the tiny indie has all but vanished.
In that same breath, I’ll also admit that perhaps Montana Story is a bit too quiet for its own good. The story of siblings reuniting at their family ranch as their divisive father lay dying in the next room is not easy to warm to. It’s a chilly film for early summer that’s beautifully captured by cinematographer Giles Nuttgens (Enola Holmes) but only sporadically possesses the kind of forward momentum to keep the bitter winds from blistering your skin.
On the outskirts of Montana, Cal (Owen Teague, Mary) arrives at his father’s sparse ranch after the patriarch suffers a debilitating stroke that has left him all but brain dead. As his father is tended to by a nurse (Gilbert Owuor, No Man of God) and a long-time family friend/worker (Kimberly Guerrero, The Glorias), Cal has several significant decisions to make about the future of the farm and finances. Erin (Haley Lu Richardson, Split) comes into the mix, Cal’s older half-sister, who hasn’t been heard from in nearly a decade, ever since she argued with her father and then disappeared overnight.
Wounded by her past, Erin finds a means of repressed salvation she can control after learning of Cal’s plans to put down a horse he can no longer care for. Deciding she’ll take ownership and bring the horse back with her out East, Erin uses this new distraction to distance herself from the conflict she’ll never fully resolve with her father. As the siblings reconnect and discover where life has taken them both, they’ll find new understanding in the power of letting go of the past so they can be free to carve out a future of their own design.
Writer/directors Scott McGehee and David Siegel have gathered a solid cast together for their tale that gets off to a good start but spins its wheels after about an hour. I enjoyed the early scenes between Teague and Owuor, easy-going conversations that revealed small details of each that didn’t feel like the clear exposition they were. Richardson comes in red hot, wound up with angst and trepidation at the situation she will find, which creates an exciting amount of energy. Sadly, Richardson can’t easily maintain that level of performance, and pretty soon, every performance has flattened out like the prairie that stretches out before them. It’s never quite a secret where the film is headed, but I thought it would get there in a less mundane way.
Marketing for Montana Story encourages audiences to “See it on the largest screen you can find,” and with the movie arriving right at the start of the summer movie season, you can still catch this one in theaters if you’re quick about it. It’s worth a look on that scale if you can make it happen, but it’s not one I’d move mountains to get to either. There’s a splendid simplicity to the vistas captured on camera, but the actual film slips into a gray dullness that could send you snoozing if you aren’t careful.