BY CHRISTOPHER HASKELL
MAY 11, 2022
“I’ve done way stupidier things for animals than drag a horse from Montana to New York.”— Muki (Eugene Brave Rock)
Haley Lu Richardson is becoming everyone’s favorite independent film darling. “Columbus” and “After Yang” both left significant impressions, and she’s bound to make one again with “Montana Story.” She plays Erin, a former Montanan who returns home after running away. As her abusive father lay dying following a stroke, she comes to terms with unresolved hurts she left behind all those years ago. Richardson’s ability to navigate complicated emotions makes her the film’s highlight.
The backdrop of Montana is stunning. Much of the film takes place in the family’s house on the ranch, but there’s a cut every so often, that leads you to these majestic shots of the snowy mountains. Had the film’s title not had “Montana” in it, and you’d asked me to name what state it took place in, I wouldn’t have been able to tell you. I never knew Montana was so majestic.
Eugene Brave Rock is a scene-stealer. Playing the role of Mukki, the owner of a truck and trailer Erin comes to purchase in order to haul the family’s last remaining horse to New York with her. There’s a moment when Mukki takes Erin and her brother, Cal, down a dirt road to see the truck. I held my breath during this scene because I pictured where this might go if this was any other film. Instead, it was harmless and gave me a deeper appreciation for Brave Rock’s talent.
With such vast and awe-inspiring landscapes, it’s a shame that the writing wasn’t as deep. There’s a scene where Erin and Cal stand over this big open pit used for mining. They speak of some of the evils perpetrated by their father. And for such a visually arresting shot, the words and the emotions behind them feel so shallow. I wanted the motives to be deeper, the crimes to be harsher, and I had wanted to think about the characters and their traumas the same way I felt about the wilderness around them.
Erin’s father abused her when she was a teen. He beat her within an inch of her life. And her brother, Cal, could have intervened but didn’t. A regret that keeps him awake at night. When Erin ran away from her father, she also ran away from Cal, completely shutting him out of her life. I understand how she could feel hurt and abandoned, but at the same time, I don’t expect Cal, a teenager, to understand what to do in a situation like that. Erin blames Cal for not stepping in and confronting his father. But, how could you blame someone for not wanting to step into abuse?
“Montana Story” is an achievement in the milieu. Surrounding a story with striking scenery allows you to tell any tale you want. Whether the story is good or bad, the audience has the scope to fall back on. Add an actress like Haley Lu Richardson, who elevates any words with the richness of her delivery, and you can turn a decent script into a delectable film.
May 13, 2022
Haley Lu Richardson as Erin
Owen Teague as Cal
Kimberly Guerrero as Valentina
Gilbert Owuor as Ace
Asivak Koostachin as Joey
Eugene Brave Rock as Mukki
VIEWED: MAY 9, 2022
FILM INDEPENDENT VIRTUAL SCREENING
In Theaters on May 13, 2022