Runtime: 113 minutes
Directors/Writers: Scott McGehee and David Siegel
Stars: Haley Lu Richardson, Owen Teague, Gilbert Owuor, Kimberly Guerrero, Eugene Brave Rock, Asivak Koostachin, Kate Britton, John Ludin
By Morgan Roberts
How do you make a film during COVID without making the film solely about COVID? That is what directors Scott McGehee and David Siegel accomplished with their latest film “Montana Story.” The film follows estranged siblings Cal (Owen Teague) and Erin (Haley Lu Richardson) as they return to their childhood home after their father (John Ludin) suffers a stroke. As the pair come back to their family ranch, not only must they come to terms with their ailing father but their past which drove them apart.
“Montana Story” had the difficult task of crafting a film during the pandemic while not immersing itself in the pandemic. The film uses the expansiveness and isolation of rural Montana to keep its cast small, giving them the room to safely do their job. There are hints of the ongoing global health crisis, but it certainly elevates the fact that regardless of what’s happening to the world at large, life still occurs in microcosms of communities and family units. There are times personal tragedies run parallel to the large societal tragedies at hand.
It lends nicely to the story’s overall themes as well of personal tragedy, personal trauma, and personal healing. Cal and Erin grew up in a community scarred by white imperialism and colonization, a community that still disenfranchises the Indigenous population and destroys the land it sits on. “Montana Story” juxtaposes the beauty of the landscape with the tumultuous past of its inhabitants so seamlessly.
At the core of the film are two performances as breathtaking as a Montana horizon. Teague is effortless as a young man grappling with tough decisions: the way he altered his relationship with his sister, his struggle with showing up for his abusive father, the selling of the farm, and how he handles the animals. You understand his inner turmoil as he attempts, almost unguided to make huge life decisions at such a young age. Teague is empathetic and honest in his portrayal. Likewise, Richardson holds the resilience her character has needed to survive, demonstrating the complexity in her quest for healing and survival. Richardson gives so much depth, even with the hard exterior of her character, giving the audiences glimmers of her hurt and the power of her compassion.
“Montana Story” is a quiet neo-Western that highlights the messiness of us all, even when the world appeared to stop. Grounded by Teague and Richardson’s outstanding performances, this film is a moving piece of cinema.