TIFF Review: 'Montana Story' Is a Triumphant Exploration of Childhood Trauma Directed by Scott McGehee and David Siegel

Starring Haley Lu Richardson, Owen Teague, Kimberly Guerrero, Gilbert Owuor, Asivak Koostachin, Eugene Brave Rock
TIFF Review: 'Montana Story' Is a Triumphant Exploration of Childhood Trauma Directed by Scott McGehee and David Siegel
Montana Story is heavy and contemplative, especially for those estranged from siblings or parents. Writing and directing pair Scott McGehee and David Siegel reunite two siblings at the bedside of their ailing father at their childhood farm. After seven years, this is no easy task. This is a compelling drama against the backdrop of the serenity of the Montana mountains, one where childhood pain bubbles to the surface as the past is confronted to reveal betrayal and a desire for forgiveness.

Giles Nuttgens' cinematography emphasizes the picturesque natural beauty of the landscape that surrounds the ranch where Cal (Owen Teague) and Erin (Haley Lu Richardson) grew up. Now, it sits as a shell of what it once was, as their father lays on his deathbed under the care of nurse Ace (Gilbert Owuor) and long-time employee Valentina (Kimberly Guerrero). Erin running away was heartbreaking for Cal, so when she arrives, the pain that both of them have buried deep for close to a decade begins to resurface. Their father left them in deep debt, so Cal must plan to sell the ranch, along with figuring out what to do with their aging horse, Mr. T. He wants to put him down, but for Erin, Mr. T symbolizes the only good part of their childhood — an escape from an abusive household. She puts up a fight. Once inseparable, now what ties them are Cal's regrets and Erin's pain, and you wonder if their relationship can ever be mended.

Montana Story is so perfectly written, providing all the exposition we need in its dialogue to capture what it was like for Cal and Erin growing up, and learning what kind of man their father was without having to see it for ourselves. We are able to envision their past fully, and it's an unpleasant one. Richardson and Teague are incredible. Through Teague's performance, Cal's inner turmoil is obvious, but he fights with his emotions for much of the film as he grapples with the responsibility of deciding what to do with their childhood home and all its memories Richardson feels much older here in a more mature role, as she must carry all the baggage Erin has held onto. There's so much history behind her eyes, displaying Erin's discomfort and upset being back home. She is truly one of the best actresses of her generation.

Parts of the characters, and ourselves, are forever tied to childhood and the home where they grew up. But what Montana Story demonstrates is that the meaning of home never stays the same.

The 2021 Toronto International Film Festival runs from September 9 to 18. Get info about in-person and online screenings at the festival website. (KinoCorp)