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Montana Story (2021) – Review – An Immersive, and Engaging Drama That’s Worth a Watch

May 24, 2022

Quick Thoughts – Grade – B+ – Montana Story is a beautifully filmed exploration of grief and moving on. Haley Lu Richardson and Owen Teague are both very likable and they create a lived in familial relationship that you’ll find yourself invested in. 

After Columbus, After Yang, Support the Girls, and The Edge of Seventeen, Haley Lu Richardson has been on quite the tear in very interesting and unique films made by exciting directors. What’s neat is that both Columbus and Montana Story feature her engaging in  conversations while standing near interesting architecture or beautiful vistas that add to the gravitas of the discussion. Directors Kogonada (Columbus, and the excellent Wes Anderson visual essays), Scott McGehee, and David Siegel (they directed The Deep End, What Maisie Knew, and Montana Story) both made very smart decisions about where to film and the end results are both worth watching. This may seem like a random point to make, but in both films I found myself smiling as the camera organically and matter of factly finds a staircase that leads to nowhere, or a gigantic pit that is hidden by the surrounding mountains. 

Montana Story focuses on the relationship of Erin (Haley Lu Richardson) and Cal (Owen Teague – Far less angry than his It 1 & 2 character), two siblings who have returned home to their family’s Montana ranch because their father is in a coma after a stroke. The two haven’t seen each other in years as Erin moved east to open up a farm-to-table restaurant in New York, and Cal moved to Cheyenne where he works for the city as an engineer. While back home, they learn that the money from the sale of the house and all the property will go to the bank as it’s been mortgaged beyond belief. This doesn’t seem to bother them as the house is filled with bad memories that stem from the alcoholic and abusive father who prior to the stroke worked as lawyer who helped a mining company dig a stupidly large hole in the ground (I bet Zach Braff’s character in Garden State would’ve loved to scream near the cavernous hole). 

While back home they meet Ace (Gilbert Owour), their father’s nurse, who informs them that the medical equipment that surrounds him in the house’s study are the only things keeping him alive. With his demise imminent, Erin and Cal have to tell Valentina (Kimberly Guerrero), the family’s longtime ranch caretaker that the bank is taking everything and she’ll be left with nothing. The reunion is bittersweet as they’re forced to start selling off their deceased mother’s car, and figure out what to do with Mr. T, their father’s 25-year old horse. The rest of the film focuses on Erin’s decision to take the horse back to New York. The decision leads to an excellent scene involving her buying a truck and trailer from their neighbor Mukki (Eugene Brave Rock – really good) who runs a horse ranch and has some extra vehicles hanging out on his property. It’s a 100% honest deal, but the decision is 100% impractical as the truck soon breaks down near the gigantic hole in the ground that Erin hates so much. What’s neat is that instead of screaming at each other about past pain, the two discuss Dante’s Inferno while standing near the source of most of their terrible memories. I don’t want to spoil the ending (there are no twists or huge revelations, but it’s better not to know), just know that the siblings find catharsis and have something to build upon in the future. 

The cinematography by Giles Nuttgens (Hell or High Water, What Maise Knew, The Deep End, Swimfan, Enola Holmes) is impressive because he knows he’s surrounded by beauty and never acts like it. Nuttgens lets the scenery speak for itself, and doesn’t try to find a precious shot or sweeping camera move that says “look at that mountain!” I also really like the way Nuttgens frames the conversations and interactions because they look beautiful and always feel like they serve the story instead of looking cool and inorganic. It’s an all around top notch production that I hope finds an audience because there is so much out there right now and I’m not sure how many people have the patience to enjoy all the great things that Montana Story offers.

Final thoughtsMontana Story is an immersive and engaging drama that I hope people find and embrace.

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