Combustible Celluloid
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With: Haley Lu Richardson, Owen Teague, Kimberly Guerrero, Gilbert Owuor, Eugene Brave Rock, Asivak Koostachin
Written by: Scott McGehee, David Siegel, based on a story by Scott McGehee, David Siegel, Mike Spreter
Directed by: Scott McGehee, David Siegel
MPAA Rating: R for language
Running Time: 114
Date: 05/13/2022

Montana Story (2022)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Big Sky Kids

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

A beautiful, uncommonly quiet, tender movie, this family drama downplays hysterics and theatrics in favor of thoughtful contemplation and gradual reveals, even if it sometimes does get a bit too soft.

Cal (Owen Teague) returns home to his Montana ranch to see his father, who is in a coma with no chance of recovery, and settle his affairs. The beloved family housekeeper Valentina (Kimberly Guerrero) is there, as well as a nurse from Kenya, known as "Ace" (Gilbert Owuor). Cal discovers that his father was in deep debt, and begins trying to even things out, such as selling his late wife's car, and getting rid of the 25 year-old family horse, Mr. T.

Soon, Cal's half-sister Erin (Haley Lu Richardson) arrives. She had a bad falling out with the family seven years earlier and vanished, though she kept in touch with Valentina. Erin plans to leave as quickly as possible until she learns about Mr. T, and decides to stay until she can find a way to bring the horse to New York with her. Over the next few days, the dark family secrets that caused Erin to run away begin simmering to the surface.

Veteran directing team David Siegel and Scott McGehee (The Deep End, Bee Season) return for the first time since their unsung, nuanced What Maisie Knew with another deeply-felt character-driven piece. Montana Story immediately sets up its characters as intelligent and caring (they read Wuthering Heights and Dante's Inferno) with a palpable longstanding history, both good and bad. When Erin storms through with her barely-controlled anger, we might wonder why Cal doesn't respond to it, but he also has his reasons.

The siblings are also at odds in their professions; Cal is an engineer, who can appreciate the beauty in a carved-out gold mine, while Erin is a farm-to-table cook, with a special relationship toward animals. This divide comes into play during a crucial scene in which the power goes out, and their father's life-support fails; Erin is left in the room with her flesh-and-blood while Cal tries to fire up a generator, and everything changes.

Montana Story is not without its flaws; the Ace character is a bit too on-the-nose as a noble dispenser of wisdom (even if that wisdom is much appreciated), and a conventional score and too many soft songs jar the otherwise delicate mood, when silence would have been far more effective. Nevertheless, it's still a powerful movie, both emotional and visual.

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