"Montana Story," about a brother and sister coming to terms with tragic family secrets during a road trip, is a throwback to an era of independent cinema in which an intimate story about people involved in situations that could actually happen could get seen on big screens in art house cinemas, a type of institution that was gradually disappearing at the time this review was published. The film is written and directed by the filmmaking team of Scott McGehee and David Siegel, who have made eight modestly-budgeted, acting- and directing-driven films during the past three decades, including the mind-bending thrillers "Suture" and "The Deep End" and the intense dramas "The Business of Strangers" and "Bee Season."
Modern audiences will become impatient with the quietness and meditative pace, and the writing is probably a little too schematic in certain ways. The familial dysfunction at the heart of the story as well as certain images and plot elements evoke 1960s rural melodramas like "Hud" and "The Last Picture Show," which were powerful but wore metaphors on their denim shirt-sleeves and would likely be written off as "old-fashioned" today. But the expansive widescreen images of Montana landscapes and the impeccable lead and supporting performances carry the picture, and it's generally a pleasure to see a film done in this mode at a time when so few filmmakers dare attempt it.
Owen Teague (of "Bloodline" and "The Stand") stars as Cal, a young man who returns to his family home to take charge of the estate of his dying father, who's been in a coma following a stroke. He's soon joined by his half-sister Erin (Haley Lu Richardson of "Ravenswood"), who's been estranged from the family for years following her rebellion against their father. Without giving too much away, suffice to say that the father's betrayals are in tune with a tradition that snakes through film noir and revisionist Westerns and plugs into the tradition of ancient Greek tragedy: the violence and sorrow that separated Erin from the family is directly related to the father's betrayal of legal, ethical, and moral codes, and all of this is folded into a more skeptical view of American history than is taught in most public schools.
There's a long, thoughtful sequence in which the siblings stare at a gaping and entirely pointless hole in the earth that their father's legal and business advice helped a mining corporation dig. Erin then schools her brother on the circles of Hell described in Dante's Inferno and relates them back to the history of their family and the state that's superficially and evasively defined to schoolchildren mainly through praise for its "big skies."
It might be asking too much of viewers who are increasingly conditioned to relate only to big-budget intellectual property-driven fantasies packed with Easter eggs and teasers to sit still for a nearly two-hour, self-contained story about the emotional and economic problems of a rural Montana family. The movie is also less than perfect, and tends to err on the side of being modest and unassuming (even the breathtaking natural vistas are photographed in a matter-of-fact way). But there are many rewards to be found here, not the least of which is a skill at staging scenes with beginnings, middles, and ends that are entirely dependent upon the subtle interactions of a few actors who live or die on the basis of the words they've been given to speak, and the silences they've been encouraged to inhabit.
Directors David Siegel and Scott McGehee join us for a live post-screening Q&A moderated by Norm Wilner on Saturday, June 18 at 7pm!\r\n\r\nFrom Suture and The Deep End through Bee Season, Uncertainty and What Maisie Knew, Scott McGehee and David Siegel have charted a unique path in American cinema. Fluent in the experimental outer reaches of film, they have also explored more approachable storytelling, acting almost as doppelg\u00e4nger figures within their own body of work. For those who choose to see it, though, there is a consistency in McGehee-Siegel films \u2014 a confidence in the strength of human character that pairs well with a parallel skepticism in how we perceive one another.\r\n\r\nIn Montana Story, Owen Teague plays Cal Thorne, a young man drawn back to the family ranch to be with his ailing father, Wade. A migrant nurse, Ace (Gilbert Owuor), has been hired to care for the old man, and longtime employee Valentina (Kimberly Guerrero) tries to help manage the sprawling property. But Wade has dug his family deep into debt with the bank, and Cal is ill-prepared to take the reins. His answer to what to do with their horses infuriates his sister Erin (Haley Lu Richardson) when she arrives from back east. The stage is set for an eternal conflict that pushes Cal and Erin to see each other truly.\r\n\r\nRichardson, whose recent credits include After Yang, Five Feet Apart, and Support the Girls, is utterly transformed here as a prairie girl turned East Coast intellectual. She is sharp, pragmatic, erudite, and impulsive, a woman of layers. Both she and Cal carry wounds from childhood that drove them from home. With their father dying, they have no choice but to confront together what home now means to them.\r\n\r\nThere are shades of America\u2019s great mid-century dramatists here, and of \u201970s reckonings such as Five Easy Pieces. McGehee and Siegel unfold the grand themes of their film in a natural, unforced way, while Giles Nuttgens\u2019 gorgeous 35mm cinematography gives this story \u2014 and Montana\u2019s sweeping landscapes \u2014 the scale it deserves.\r\n\r\nOfficial Selection, Platform programme, 2021 Toronto International Film Festival\r\n\r\nContent advisory: coarse language", "uploadDate": "2021-08-11T14:18", "name": "Montana Story Trailer" }, "director": [ "@type": "Person", "name": "David Siegel" , "@type": "Person", "name": "Scott McGehee" ], "actor": [ "@type": "Person", "name": "Haley Lu Richardson" , "@type": "Person", "name": "Owen Teague" , "@type": "Person", "name": "Kimberly Guerrero" , "@type": "Person", "name": "Gilbert Owuor" , "@type": "Person", "name": "Asivak Koostachin" , "@type": "Person", "name": "Eugene Brave Rock" ], "editor": [ "@type": "Person", "name": "Isaac Hagy" ], "countryOfOrigin": [ "@type": "Country", "name": "United States of America" ], "dateCreated": "2021-08-11T14:18"}
The history of pandemic cinema has yet to be written. The film industry did not shut down entirely over the past two years, but so many of the stories that emerge from the pandemic are still over-defined by their production. Montana Story, a new film from the indie duo behind Uncertainty, The Deep End and What Maisie Knew, is another film both shot and set in the middle of the pandemic, but the story it sets out to tell stands on its own. If history is kind, perhaps it may emerge as one of the best of the bunch.
Her latest is called "Montana Story" and it's the kind of earnest low-key family drama that I have a real soft spot for. Co-directed, co-written, and co-produced by David Siegel and Scott McGehee, "Montana Story" is a movie loaded with emotion yet handled with remarkable restraint. It makes sense considering the very story itself is about deeply buried pain, bitterness, and trauma. But not every filmmaker can resist the urge to soak this type of story in melodrama. Thankfully Siegel and McGehee do resist.
"Montana Story" actually premiered in September at the Toronto International Film Festival but is just now getting its U.S. release. It was filmed in late 2020 under strict pandemic protocols and shot over a six week period in Montana's Paradise Valley. It's a setting that fits nicely with the quiet melancholic beats of the storytelling. And the sweeping landscapes (wonderfully captured by cinematographer Giles Nuttgens) represent a lot more than just pretty scenery.
The story revolves around two estranged siblings who return to their family's river valley ranch where their father lies on his deathbed, comatose following a massive stroke. Cal (Owen Teague) is a civil engineer from Cheyenne who arrives at the ranch to get his father's affairs in order. The first sign of tension comes with Cal's desire to reconnect with the family's 25-year-old stallion Mr. T before seeing his father who lies in his study connected to an assortment of life-sustaining machines. There he's treated by a hospice nurse named Ace (Gilbert Owuor) and his longtime housekeeper Valentina (Kimberly Guerrero).
But Cal is shocked when his sister Erin (Richardson) suddenly arrives unannounced. The two haven't spoken in seven years, since the day Erin ran away from home following a horrible incident that ripped their family apart. "I just want to see him one more time," she says using all the strength she can muster to hold in her enmity. And when she gets word that Cal plans on euthanizing Mr. T, the friction between siblings comes to a boil as the ugliness of their family's history slowly comes into focus.
At times "Montana Story" looks and plays like a neo-Western (minus the gunfights and Stetsons). Other times it almost feels like a deconstruction of the genre. The movie is full of symbolism and impossible to miss metaphors while several side characters offer a unique indigenous perspective. And so many things bring texture and depth to the story -- Mr. T, the gray Lexus belonging to Cal's late mother, their deceptively idyllic farmhouse nestled in the shadows of the beautiful mountains. All of it adds meaningful layers that Siegel and McGehee use to great effect.
A part of me wishes Siegel and McGehee would have done more with the supporting players as they all seem to have interesting stories to tell. But in the end I appreciate their choice to stick to their two central characters and the trauma, resentment and disappointment that binds them. We know where things are heading; that an emotional eruption is all but inevitable. But the movie never overplays the tension. The story remains focused and the performances are rich enough to give us glimmers of hope for a reconciliation. 041b061a72