Montana Story (2021)

Movie Info

Movie Info

Scott McGehee and David Siegel
Run Time
1 hour and 54 minutes

VP Content Ratings

Sex & Nudity
Star Rating
★★★★★5 out of 5

Relevant Quotes

For these things I weep;
    my eyes flow with tears;
for a comforter is far from me…

Lamentations 1:16a
Erin & Cal wait for a tow truck when her just-bought truck breaks down. (c) Bleecker Street

Writer-directors Scott McGehee and David Siegel set their story in Montana and include a beloved horse, but their film is neither a typical Western nor an addition to the Black Beauty genre. Instead, it centers on the relationship of a brother and a sister, once very close but then ruptured by a terrible event several years earlier.

We first meet younger brother Cal (Owen Teague), who has returned to the family ranch to wind up the affairs of his dying father Wade (Rob Story). However, upon arriving, he ignores the unconscious old man hooked up to a machine and visits a beloved 25-year-old stallion named Mr. T. Thus, we learn that the father will not be missed or much mourned. Cal is told by the family banker (or lawyer?) that an auction should bring in just enough to pay for medical bills.

Wade is being tended by the Kenya-born whose difficult African name has been replaced by Ace (Gilbert Owuor), a gentle male nurse. Apparently a live-in, Ace seems to have no private life, being on hand at all hours. The patient is in a coma, his body kept alive by the medical devices to which he is attached. Providing additional aid during the week is longtime housekeeper Valentina (Kimberly Guerrero), who apparently helped raise Cal and his sister Erin (Haley Lu Richardson). She is one of several Native Americans who live near the farm and whose presence reminds us that the ranch was carved out of land their ancestors had once roamed freely.

When Erin arrives there is little warmth in the greeting between her and Cal. She announces that she will not stay the night. She too goes out to the barn to reunited with Mr. T. She is even colder toward their father than her brother. There is a note of unbelief in her voice when she says she almost pities him. She decides to stay after all when she learns that plans are to put down the old horse, along with auctioning off the ranch and its assets.

Cal is upset to learn that Valentina has been in touch with his sister during the years since she had run away from the ranch, but he is somewhere mollified when she explains that Erin had made her promise not to tell him, one more clue concerning Erin’s hostile feelings toward her brother. Erin declares that she will take Mr. T back with her to New York. Equating New York with the Big Apple, Cal asks how can she keep a horse in the City, and she replies that she lives in upstate New York.

Ace serves as a sounding board for the siblings, at times offering wise counsel. He seems to have more effect on them than Valentina, perhaps because he brings an outsider’s view.

I expected that the second half of the film would be a road trip, but after buying a decrepit truck and horse trailer from Native American Mukki (Eugene Brave Rock), the old truck breaks down on their way back to their ranch. Cal has accompanied Erin in his truck, so they call their friend Joey (Asivak Koostachin) to come with his tow truck. The rest of the film centers on the growing tension between brother and sister, culminating in an explosion of rage when we learn why Erin has harbored such a grudge against her brother. Nature also explodes in a fierce storm that brings everything to a crisis due to the power being knocked out. The conclusion is not the road trip that we might have expected—contrary to what the film’s publicity has led us to expect, a horse is not central to the plot. Instead, it is the hurt on Erin’s side and the guilt on Cal’s side that is at the heart of this fine character-driven film.

Perhaps the most interesting scene between sister and brother is when they visit together an abandoned copper mine that looks like a terraced man-made Grand Canyon. When Cal says, “There it is, the belly of the beast, that our father helped shield from government oversight,” we learn one more negative factor about their father. Erin launches into a speech about Dante’s nine circles of hell, her bitterness increasing. She calls the 9th level, usually labeled “Treachery,” “Betrayal,” obviously aimed at her brother and what he did in the past—or, rather, what he failed to do. How all this comes to even more of a head as a result of the storm makes for a gripping climax.

This is a story you will not soon forget—and do, if it shows at a theater in your area, see it in a theater. Haley Lu Richardson and Owen Teague display the anger and the guilt born of that long ago wrong so ably that were this a bigger film, we would be hearing Oscar talk about them. This is not a film that “entertains” you, but one that moves you, and that very deeply!

Added to the emotional impact are the gorgeous shots of Montana’s Paradise Valley and that vast mine pit. Do see it in a theater–it will not be nearly as effective on a home screen.

This review will be in the April issue of  VP along with a set of questions for reflection and/or discussion. If you have found reviews on this site helpful, please consider purchasing a subscription or individual issue in The Store.


Bleecker Street

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