Montana Story

When Cal (Owen Teague, "It," HBO's 'Mrs. Fletcher') returns home, we can see that the place is familiar, but he is hesitant around his comatose father, now being cared for in the ranch’s study by home aid nurse Ace (Gilbert Owuor).  He’s clearly comfortable with long time, Native American housekeeper Valentina (Kimberly Guerrero, "The Glorias"), whose son Joey (Asivak Koostachin) is a childhood friend, but he’ll find out she’s been keeping a secret about his splintered family in “Montana Story.”

Laura's Review: B-

Cowriter/directors Scott McGehee and David Siegel ("The Deep End," "What Maisie Knew") deliver only their sixth film since their 1993 debut "Suture," but while their well spaced filmography at first may seem to have no connective thread, all of their films explore dysfunctional families.  While half of their films were adapted, “Montana Story,” like “Suture” is an original screenplay.  What’s most surprising about it is how old-fashioned it is, even laced with modern touches like the search for cell phone signals and farm-to-table/tail-to-snout restaurants.

Cal appears somewhat shell-shocked, but that is understandable given he has clearly arrived in a place preparing for death.  Ace invites him to sit with his father, whose face is obscured by a ventilator.  Valentina has Joey carry out boxes for Goodwill.  There’s an old horse, Mr. T, in the barn that Cal greets with solemn affection, yet when a bankruptcy lawyer suggests a plan to have the animal put down, Cal goes along.  The sale of the family ranch will barely cover his father’s medical bills.

Then a bomb explodes in the unexpected arrival of Cal’s older sister Erin (Haley Lu Richardson, "Columbus," "Support the Girls"), come to see her father one last time.  Turns out Cal’s been searching for his sister for the past six years, ever since she ran away when he was fifteen.   McGehee and Siegel tease out the mystery of her disappearance and estrangement from her brother as Erin begins a campaign to save Mr. T, determined to bring him back to upstate New York.

The twenty-five year-old horse is symbolic of the filmmakers’ themes, the approach of a father’s death enabling the liberation of his offspring.  This man, a lawyer not a rancher, is not of the land the way his housekeeper or his horse is, a fact underscored by the flight of both his children (Cal has moved on to a job as a civil engineer in a nearby city).  Erin will begin talking to Cal of necessity, having arranged to purchase an old truck and horse trailer from Mukki (Eugene Brave Rock, "The Revenant," "Wonder Woman"), but it will be a blackout at the ranch and the resultant medical emergency it causes that brings about a full scale reckoning.

And yet “Montana Story’s” climax doesn’t deliver the emotional punch that it should, perhaps because we never actually see the instigating incident, or maybe because Teague’s Cal is so confused by his own historical inaction.  Teague is fine in a confused, emotionally-over-his-head way.  Richardson strides onto the scene making it apparent she has no intention of staying, her movements brisk, her speech clipped.  The siblings may have found their way back to one another by the time they separate, but their story is never as satisfying as that little seen, symbolic horse’s is.

“Deep End” cinematographer Giles Nuttgens opens with a close-up of chickens, specifically a stunning black and white Wyandotte, before pulling back into ‘big sky’ Montana ranch mode in 2.39:1 widescreen.   Music is comprised of old timey piano and Cal’s porch guitar plucking. 

Robin's Review: B-

Bleecker Street opens "Montana Story" in select theaters on 5/13/22.