Starring a magnificent Haley Lu Richardson and the superb Owen Teague, Montana Story is an emotional ride with gorgeous visuals.
Despite the trailer capturing my interest, I wasn’t too sure what to think of Scott McGehee and David Siegel’s Montana Story before sitting down to watch it. The opening shot immediately drew me into the film and its neo-western style because it was simply breathtaking. I’m glad it did, because the end result, even after a sort of slow start, is one of my favorite films of 2022 thus far.
Montana Story centers on Cal Thorne (Owen Teague) and his sister Erin (Haley Lu Richardson) who have been estranged for several years. The two siblings return to the ranch that they once called home to be with their ailing father. They’re forced to confront their complicated family history, while also contending with a bank debt that is pushing them into selling the ranch.
Even though Montana Story is wonderfully told, the story can drag a bit in the beginning when Cal returns to the ranch. This part of the film almost feels too much like a trailer for the actual movie which begins when Erin arrives. It helps establish the narrative and tells us a bit about Cal, the ranch, and the father’s illness, but I personally was more impressed by the visuals and setting than those details. Once everything is established, things pick up and become a lot less boring. Cal and Erin’s conflict is clear and you can feel every bit of the tension between the estranged siblings. I’m not sure how you could fix this introduction in all honesty, but the film becomes much better after it.
It’s an intimate story about two siblings and the emotions they feel as they grapple with returning to this ranch they grew up on. They deal with so many feelings that audience members who’ve spent any extended amount of time away from home before coming back will recognize. The key difference is that Cal and Erin have to reckon with their father being on his deathbed, the fact that they’re about to lose the ranch, and their pasts. Montana Story is like a slow burning powder keg, waiting to explode all of its emotions out on to the viewer.
You’ll learn about Erin and Cal and their history throughout Montana Story, and you’ll see them go through this experience together, and it’s fascinating. That fascination stems from the fact that we can see that these two characters clearly have love for each other, and are not only dealing with everything going on in their own way, but also attempting to rebuild their relationship. While those ways of coping and the rebuilding of their relationship are occurring, there is this underlying tension that you can feel between the siblings, which clearly revolves around their past and their father.
Both Haley Lu Richardson and Owen Teague have their own scenes in which the powder keg of emotions bottled up inside Cal and Erin explodes. Teague lets out Cal’s emotions in a way that’s subtle and slow so that you can hang on his every word. Richardson on the other hand will sometimes nearly let Erin explode before stopping herself. It makes the moments in Montana Story when she lets everything be known that much more powerful and cathartic. We’ve seen her hold everything back until she just can’t anymore and it’s absolutely heartbreaking. Richardson, for the most part, is much more vocal and expressive than Teague but both moments work extremely well for the story and their characters.
Richardson and Teague are joined for most of the film by Gilbert Owuor, who portrays a migrant nurse nicknamed Ace that helps care for Cal and Erin’s father. Like Teague, Owuor gives a rather subtle performance in Montana Story and his character helps the siblings in more ways than one. He is a great supporting player in a narrative that is so focused on two characters in particular.
Montana Story works as a whole because it is well written and because of the performances of Richardson and Teague. The introduction may be a little iffy, but watching these siblings go through this situation and then try to reconnect with each other is something that feels so real. All that build up and tension between them is felt in every frame because of the performances. Then they both let loose and unravel the circumstances of their past throughout, and it’s like a relief washing over the Thorne siblings and the audience. It also works and feels real thanks to the majestic setting: the film was shot on location in Montana during the COVID-19 pandemic. Shooting this film in Montana adds to the authenticity of the story and lets the audience experience a beautiful landscape. As previously mentioned, shots like the opening one of the Montana mountains are absolutely incredible, and Montana Story is filled to the brim with them.
As long as you’re able to stick with it through the short introduction, you’ll find Montana Story tells a hard hitting, emotional narrative about two siblings that might cause you to shed a tear or two. Haley Lu Richardson turns in another exceptional performance in her young career as Erin, following impressive outings in Columbus (2017) and 2018’s Support the Girls. Owen Teague is certainly a name I’ll be watching going forward as well, given that his performance as Cal is just as sensational as Richardson’s. The lovely visuals compliment the story and performances of Richardson and Teague so well while also standing out on their own. These elements ultimately work together in harmony to make Montana Story a fantastic film.
Montana Story is now available to watch on digital and on demand.