‘Montana Story’ is slow-paced, yet affecting take on familial tensions in the Wild West

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Grade: 3.0/5.0

Awe-inspiring western landscapes grab viewers’ eyes from the very first shot of “Montana Story.” It is nearly impossible to not get lost within the film’s backdrop: the Rocky Mountains encased by endless blue skies. However, camouflaged in the stunning scenery lies a heartrending tale of broken familial ties.

Directed by longtime partners David Siegel and Scott McGehee, “Montana Story” follows the lives of estranged siblings Cal (Owen Teague) and Erin (Haley Lu Richardson), who are forced to reunite on their family’s ranch after their father slips into a coma. Taking place over what seems to be no longer than a week, the two are forced to overcome enervating divisions as their dad’s future becomes more and more uncertain by the day. 

The movie’s natural landscape is juxtaposed with the near-constant beeping produced by the machine that keeps Cal and Erin’s father alive. Among the beeps, the tension between the siblings gradually builds as the audience discovers the dark secrets held by the now-bankrupt family. Meanwhile, the impending foreclosure of the ranch looms in the distance.

Both Teague and Richardson deliver grade-A performances, tugging at the audience’s heartstrings through tense conversations about abandonment and abuse. The complexities of their relationship—having not spoken for years since Erin’s departure from the family home—are portrayed in a mostly understated fashion up until the film’s capturing climax.

Gilbert Owuor is similarly impressive in his role as Ace, the father’s at-home caretaker. A new addition to the troubled family, Owuor grants moments of warmth and compassion to an otherwise melancholic narrative. The acting and writing throughout the film are by far some of its most impressive aspects, as even background characters such as Mukki (Eugene Brave Rock), a man who sells his truck to Erin in a single scene, are immensely complex and add valuable depth to the watch.

Another highlight of the film is its clear aesthetic vision. With the visuals doused in a slight blue tint, a coldness follows wherever the protagonists venture. An inescapable sadness resides within the jarringly beautiful landscape. Each shot feels meticulously planned, lending the audience views of the immense scenery alongside the oppressive emotions lurking on the ranch. 

Yet, the undying focus on aesthetics is also a key source of the work’s shortcomings, as the slow pacing makes for a tedious viewing experience. Filled to the brim with gratuitous shots evidently added for the sole purpose of their stunning visuals, numerous moments of the film are unnecessary and, frankly, boring. With a runtime of just under two hours, the film feels even longer due to the inclusion of repetitious scenic views and drawn-out moments with no dialogue. 

Furthermore, the wait for the film’s climax is needlessly long. The final twenty minutes of the movie are incredibly captivating, making the previous monotony nearly acceptable. However, the buildup to the final act is simply too lengthy to be justified. The film’s prolonged nature only takes away from its beautiful conclusion, as audiences are forced to ponder whether the payoff was worth the wait.

Although the film is boring at times, it is by no means unwatchable. What “Montana Story” lacks in pacing, it makes up for in visual grandeur and entrancing performances. Removing the typical machismo found in Westerns and instead focusing on the emotions tied to a traumatic childhood, the film is a somewhat fresh take on the age-old genre. Both Teague and Richardson make the movie bearable even in its most wearisome moments, and their acting chops dramatize the enticing climax. 

“Montana Story” may not be a highlight of this year’s film releases, but it provides a moving, distinctive take on the family drama, and it is certainly worth the watch.

Contact Ian Fredrickson at [email protected].