McGehee and Siegel’s emotional look at two siblings nearly destroyed by their hated father.
A gift I’ve learned from my late grandfather is that he doesn’t watch the trailers; he just sits there and absorbs the experience. I probably said that before, and maybe I’ll say it again, but that’s basically how I saw “Montana Story,” the latest film from directors Scott McGehee and David Siegel (“The Deep End”). It’s an Indie that uses its emotions in strong ways and explains how its characters find themselves within the drama.
I knew Haley Lu Richardson and Owen Teague were both cast in the leads roles, but I didn’t know if they would play siblings or lovers, until I saw the film. I found out they are siblings, but estranged siblings from different mothers and the same father. They both return to their family farm in Montana, when their father is in a coma following a stroke. These two young actors are excellent in the ways they express their emotions and struggle to overcome their past and choices.
Teague plays Cal (short for Calvin as he mentions), and Richardson is Erin, who is more disgruntled about dad than he is. In fact, she can’t be in the same room with him alone, after he violently attacked her. The tension thickens as their past story gets revealed. It uses no flashbacks, only words, and like reading a book, the pictures are in your head. I was imagining what happened, and it’s pretty depressing.
They’re both able to make friends with their father’s Kenyan nurse Ace (Gilbert Owuor), who learns about their troubled past. And they also have an old horse named Mr. T, which I think is kind of racist because the horse is black, whom the brother was intending to put down because of his age and condition, but the sister decides to drive him home to Upstate New York.
Parts of the story aren’t vague and there are some supporting characters who aren’t as drawn as Ace is. There’s the family friend Valentina (Kimberly Guerrero) and her son Joey (Asivak Koostachin), both of whom are helpful in Erin and Cal’s drama, but they aren’t given as much basis as they deserve. And I’m not sure if we’re supposed to learn everything about the abusive father, other than the fact that he’s also a sleazy lawyer. He’s in the coma, so, it’s hard to say if he felt bad about hurting his daughter. It’s still a frightening experience for the girl, although I can’t acknowledge it.
But I was mostly drawn into the two main young characters’ troubles and their relationship affected by them. I’ve already singled out Richardson and Teague for their performances, but Owuor also wins us over as Ace. These three actors are able to adapt to their characters, and keep us involved sincerely and curiously. Again, I didn’t see the trailer for this movie, but I was curious to know the story and characters. These are people you really care about.
McGehee and Siegel both provide “Montana Story” with the kind of vivid filmmaking, as if it were a sentimental western that cares less about the action and violence and more about the dialogue and character development. When you watch sad movies with sad characters, wonderfully acted and gorgeously filmed, you’re lucky you’re not in their shoes within the drama. But at the same time, you don’t rub it in their faces. You sympathize them, and that’s what matters most.
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