How could something so gorgeous be this monotonous? Montana Story is a scenic trip down the Beartooth Highway. It is breathtakingly beautiful, but after a while, you may find yourself bored and wondering when this endless journey will come to its final destination.
This review of the film Montana Story does not contain spoilers.
How could something so gorgeous be this monotonous? Montana Story is like a scenic trip down the Beartooth Hwy. Breathtakingly beautiful, but after a while, you may find yourself bored and praying to God for a few bars of cell phone service, wondering when will this endless journey will come to its final destination. I know I did.
Montana Story is a drama of buried resentment, and there is the overt subtext that flows through its characters. We have Cal (Owen Teague, slightly miscast), who comes back home from a long trip from Cheyenne, Wyoming. He was born and raised in Big Sky country. He is far from a cowboy. Slim, quiet, and even meek, he has come home to be with his sick father. He is in a coma and on a respirator. He is being cared for at home by Valentina (Longmire’s Kimberly Norris) and an at-home nurse, Ace (Gilbert Owuor). There is also the issue of land rights, where Valentina’s son, Joey (Asivak Koostachin), pushes the conversation with Cal beyond personal gain.
Cal’s father’s life as we know it is over for all intents and purposes. He had borrowed against the house, and now Cal needs to sell the ranch to cover medical costs. His estranged sister, Erin (Haley Lu Richardson, wonderful here), shows up to say goodbye to him. Since then, she left the ranch and lives in New York, supporting herself as a chef. When she arrives, the tension is palpable between her and Cal because it’s the first time she has seen him in years. They have not talked, nor has she seen her father in that time frame. You get the feeling she wants to verify his death instead of saying goodbye.
Scott McGehee and David Siegal’s film is so invested in the laid-back style that it meanders in its solitude. This character-driven story shoots every uncomfortable silence, space filler, and needless interaction, then unearths a mountain of memories in an unnatural, rushed fashion that makes your head spin. It is stunningly shot, but even if film is a visual medium, engulfing the viewer with jaw-dropping visuals cannot overcome the film’s languishing pace.
The saving grace here is the performance of Haley Lu Richardson (Support the Girls). The young and underutilized Hollywood actress is a revelation. She carries such a healthy amount of venom. She is bitter, but without being one-dimensional. Richardson’s Erin is a slow burn. By the time the film arrives at the big scene Montana Story has been buildings towards, her intensity is flawlessly portrayed. Teague’s character is interesting because he is portrayed as meek and sensitive, which may be considered unusual for his upbringing, but is understood because of his childhood. However, when the moment comes for his character to reach Richardson’s strength, he cannot match the brooding fervor that the script requires.
Montana Story needed more conviction and stoicism in its storytelling to reach the emotional scope it set out to achieve.
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