Saturday, September 11, 2021

Montana Story: Movie Review

A quiet, thoughtful tale of past trauma.

Montana Story blends the tranquility of a ranch on the Rocky Mountain Front with the stress of death. Cal (Owen Teague) has returned home for his father’s final days. There’s a local family who has worked on the ranch for years and cleans and takes care of the house, and now there’s a hospice worker to help the dad pass peacefully. But it’s up to Cal to find money to cover all the medical bills, figure out what to do with the last remaining animal and then sell the ranch. Until sister Erin (Haley Lu Richardson) arrives.   2021

Directed by: Scott McGehee, David Siegel

Screenplay by: Scott McGehee, David Siegel, Mike Spreter

Starring: Owen Teague, Haley Lu Richardson

Erin is frazzled, has seemingly arrived out of nowhere and Cal is surprised to see her. Why are you here? How do you even know that dad is dying? Who told you? Not the first questions most people would think of so it’s clear that there has been a massive falling out between brother and sister. Erin is angry, flustered and doesn’t know what to do with herself. She wants to see her dad, but she doesn’t, she wants him dead, but she actually wishes she didn’t care. And that’s what this film does so well is setting up the current conflicting emotions surfacing from past trauma. Erin’s mysterious departure doesn’t remain mysterious for very long, and viewers are rewarded with a cathartic exploration of the trauma Erin experienced, the anger she still holds and the guilt that Cal can’t shake.

When Erin finds out that Cal is going to euthanize their old horse - a 25-year-old horse with arthritis and unable to serve on a ranch anymore – she is livid. Erin, as has been greatly hinted at, is somebody who literally ran away from her problems and has never dealt with them, and now has come to the logical conclusion that this horse should come live with her in New York. She means upstate New York, but still, I loved all of the other characters’ reactions to her serious suggestion that a dying horse should be transported from Montana to New York just so it doesn’t have to be put to death here.

Erin is a much darker character than we’ve seen Haley Lu Richardson before. Erin directly experienced significant trauma in her past (it’s dark and heavy so viewers may want to be aware), and now 7 years later, she has unsuccessfully repressed it. There’s a lot of anger, instability and an insincere confidence to her. On the flip side, Owen Teague plays the quieter, more gentle Cal. Erin’s disappearance meant he couldn’t repent his guilt, but he has wanted to. He’s farther along with his own reckoning of the indirect part he played in Erin’s trauma but may not be able to help Erin until she reaches a breaking point.

The cinematography is very beautiful and serene. Rocky Mountains in the backdrop, unchanging prairies in the foreground. The mature and reserved Cal fits in perfectly with his surroundings (after all he only moved to the neighbouring state of Wyoming). Erin is the disruptor, not realizing how desperately she needs closure.

The story is minimal, but very well told as it allows both characters to breathe and reach clarity on their own. The representation of country life is accurate, and I really responded to how both characters dealt with their pain and guilt and eventually move on.

One of the Best of 2022