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'Montana Story' review: Solid performances try grounding stagnant but visually appealing drama

Courtesy of Bleecker Street


About thirty minutes into writer/director’s Scott McGehee and David Siegel’s drama “Montana Story” it becomes apparent the stars of the movie aren’t Owen Teague and Haley Lu Richardson, despite both actors delivering sobering performances, it’s the glistening Montana countryside, photographed by Giles Nuttgens, that leaves the biggest impression. Everything else takes a back seat, as two siblings work on arrangements for their childhood ranch after dad, who is now in a medically induced coma, eventually succumbs. Teague, known for “Bloodline” and the “IT” franchise, and Richardson, marvelous in “Five Feet Apart” and “The Edge of Seventeen,” certainly make the most from the movie's stagnant pacing which if not for the visual palette might have taken itself out to pasture.

Teague plays Cal Throne, a young man who’s made the trek from Cheyenne to his quiet Montana hometown to essentially bury his father and take care of the estate planning. Not much remains of the old Throne ranch aside from a couple of employee’s and a 25-year-old stallion named Mr. T. Even the nurse, Ace (Gilbert Owuor) doesn’t offer much optimism about the situation, but he does present a wealth of wisdom and soothing anecdotes like he was Tony Robinson in another life. It’s a bleak situation, though “Montana Story” gains traction with the arrival of Cal’s sister, Erin (Haley Lu Richardson) who he hasn’t seen in several years.

It’s evident in these early moments the animosity between them, and McGehee and Siegel’s screenplay decides to hold its cards close to the vest, choosing what facets of the relationship to reveal at opportune moments. Except it won’t be hard, judging by dialogue and background conversations, why Erin isn’t exactly reeling over her father’s situation (and that it takes an eternity to unravel doesn’t help either). It’s a shame “Montana Story” frolics among these important milestones, holding the characters back from growth and understanding.

Anchored by Richardson and Teague in each frame, the undercurrent of the film’s heart becomes about how something tragic, and the sins of the past can be used for healing. On those merits, “Montana Story” doesn’t completely fall apart, glued together, again, by Nuttgen’s stunning cinematography which captures the beauty of the rural landscape and community Cal and Erin called home for most of their lives. There’s a tender moment in the middle of the film where the siblings purchase a beaten down truck and trailer from a local named Mukki (Eugene Brave Rock – a standout) and within minutes it feels like we’ve known him for decades. If you see “Montana Story” for any other reason besides the gorgeous scenery, do it for Mukki.

Grade: C+

MONTANA STORY is now playing in select theaters and expands nationwide, Friday, May 27th.


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