The very expressive young actors who play brother and sister Cal (Owen Teague of “The Stand” and “I See You”) and Erin (Haley Lu Richardson of “Five Feet Apart” and “The Edge of Seventeen”) in “Montana Story” are worth a view as much as the majestic scenery of Montana itself.
This “Story” of family betrayal, regret and redemption has a very Montana landscape, wrapped in Native American culture from the atmospheric songs on the radio during plentiful trips across the countryside echoing the distance between characters, to heartbreaking news stories carefully placed on the TV in the background filling even the airwaves in this film with the despair of our players.
Modern native life is casually portrayed through several native actors’ patient performances as constant reminders to appreciate the land, the animals and even invasive species pushing out everything native.
Amidst this quite literal backdrop of pure Americana, Erin and Cal’s father lies in hospice inside their childhood home, as hated now as ever, but Cal is left alone to care for him since Erin made a traumatizingly abrupt exit years ago after the death of her favorite horse and a particularly brutal beating at the hands of her father.
She never forgave him or her brother for not stepping in to protect her and they haven’t spoken since before they both entered adulthood. Erin comes home only to set defiant eyes on her attacker but instead finds a withered, comatose man being cared for like a baby and it only opens wounds for her. Cal convinces her to stay long enough to learn about each other’s’ lives (Erin became a chef in upstate New York and Cal graduated college in Wyoming with an engineering degree) and tend to the remaining animals on their ancestral farm before its liquidation.
An aging horse surprisingly becomes the center of Erin’s attention and a touchstone for the film because it’s easier to care for an animal who can’t hurt you than a person now beyond an unattainable apology.
She becomes determined to save this horse since she could not save the horse of her childhood and schemes first to buy a trailer to take it back to New York with her, then to find it a good local home.
On that quest, we learn that not all animals are equal in her eyes, because one night she kills a chicken with her bare hands as the farm to table chef she is, in a single tender moment lovingly crafting a special meal for her brother and her father’s caregiver (because food is love after all).
This scene turns the film into somewhat of a foodie movie like “Babette’s Feast” or “Pig” but only briefly, as storms take out the power to the kitchen and her father’s medical equipment at the same time and choices and amends must be made in their family once and for all.
Directors and writers Scott McGehee and David Siegel have teamed up before for the extremely moving “What Maisie Knew” and intricate thriller “The Deep End,” but “Montana Story” boasts none of the exquisite features of those films.
Instead, the young leads carry the film with their mesmerizingly honest performances that heal old wounds in their characters and the audience, but it’s the surprising solutions they come to without words approaching the end of two lives that create the lasting scar.
Simonie Wilson, whose love of movies began as a child in the ’70s going to drive-ins with her family, has been a resident of the Northland for more than a decade. She is a board member of the Kansas City Film Critics Circle and a Women Film Critics Circle member. She can be reached online at www.facebook.com/RedVineReviewer.