“Montana Story” is a western where the sweeping scenery and shots of the vast, dusty landscape aren’t the star, but the family drama is. The visuals are absolutely stunning, but it’s the story that affected me on a deep level. This understated character study is painful, touching, and emotionally powerful, from its restrained beginning to its most forceful final blow.
Cal (Owen Teague) has returned home to tend to his dying father, who has fallen into a coma. There’s a no-nonsense air about the young man, as he realizes his dad is never going to wake up again. The family is in a massive amount of debt, and it all rests on Cal’s shoulders to take care of things like selling his late mother’s car and devising an affordable plan to get rid of the family’s 25 year old horse, Mr. T.
When estranged older sister Erin (Haley Lu Richardson) arrives from the East coast, she’s unhappy with the path Cal has chosen for Mr. T. She decides that she wants to personally drive the horse back to upstate New York to live near her. Over the course of a few days, cracks begin to form as the siblings confront a bitter family history that’s filled with agonizing trauma.
The screenplay (by Mike Spreter and co-directors Scott McGehee and David Siegel) is exceptional, filled with raw authenticity and insight. It’s poignant and heartbreaking, with strong characters and a profound understanding of the human condition.
Erin left home at 18 and never came back, completely cutting herself off from everyone, including her younger brother. She and Cal are strangers as adults, and watching them navigate their new reality and relationship isn’t easy. The pain lies in what’s left unsaid, and their reunion is a way for the two to finally face their childhood wounds and actually begin to see and relate to each other on a deeper level.
Richardson and Teague’s performances are restrained in a way that makes them feel so painful, yet also powerful. The cast (including Gilbert Owuor, Eugene Brave Rock, Asivak Koostachin, and Kimberly Guerrero) is terrific across the board.
The pacing is relaxed, yet the film never feels slow. Characters and their back stories are introduced gradually, with only tiny snippets revealed at a time. As the pieces start to fall into place, the emotional volcano filled with dark family secrets threatens to erupt. When it finally does, it’s devastating.
Things are not all dark, as the film manages to end on a positive note that gives a sense of hope. It’s a film that takes a lot out of the viewer, but the emotional investment is worth it.
“Montana Story” is a tale about damaged people, broken relationships, destructive trauma, and the ability to restore the capacity to love by learning what home really means.
By: Louisa Moore