Toronto International Film Festival 2021 Review – Montana Story (2021)

If you don’t know the inside scoop as we do, let us fill you in: Haley Lu Richardson is one of the best young actors working in Hollywood today and she will be one of the biggest if her career trajectory continues. The 26-year-old broke through in the brilliant The Edge of Seventeen alongside Hailee Steinfeld in 2016 and followed it up with turns in Split, Support The Girls, and Columbus, the latter ones of which are two of this decade’s indie gems. While she hasn’t jumped into blockbuster territory yet, such prizes await we’re sure but right now, we get excited by anything the Arizona-born actor does right now and Montana Story, her latest, is perhaps her best yet.

After hearing the devastating news that their father has suffered a near-fatal stroke and is now on life-support, siblings Erin (Haley Lu Richardson) and Cal (Owen Teague) return to their childhood home – a now somewhat disused ranch in Montana – to see him before he passes. However, their relationship soured and became toxic when they were teenagers after Erin had published an article about a local environmental issue involving their father that led to a shocking and irreparable break-up of the family.

Of course, as we may have already mentioned, the film is blessed with a uniformly excellent ensemble led by Richardson who, once more, is stratospherically good. In fact, this might be her crowning performance of her still relatively fledgling career and there is still so much more to come, not least her reuniting with director Kogonada for After Yang later this year (we hope).

Erin is the most complex, compelling, and human character she has perhaps played so far and she revels in the challenge: devastated and broken by her experiences, she is a wounded animal desperate to get back the life that she’s hidden from for nearly a decade and in Richardson‘s magnificent hands, we feel every emotion, cry every tear and hold every hope that she finds it. And, alongside Teague’s raw, quiet portrayal as Cal, the two are mesmeric.

Writing/directing duo David Siegel and Scott McGehee, who last brought us 2012’s underrated What Maisie Knew, are clearly passionate about Montana and the surrounding landscapes as, through their distinct yet delicate direction, the film looks incredible and yet, due to the nature of the film and its narrative which addresses important subjects like child and domestic abuse, doesn’t quite break out of the generics of the piece and, at times, feels derivative and uninspired.

Purposefully and profoundly taking their time to bask in the unique splendour of their environment, however, it’s impossible not to be enthralled by some of the images on screen that allow the smaller, more intimate story to breathe. Reunited with cinematographer Giles Nuttgens, who brought a sweatier feel to the similarly set Hell Or High Water a few years back, the stillness of the world set against the chaotic, fiery story going on inside the ranch is brilliantly realised and only adds to the film’s tranquil beauty. Bask in its majestic locale, stay for Richardson‘s magnificence.

★★★ 1/2

Drama | Cert: tbc | Toronto International Film Festival, 12/12 and 16 September 2021.|Dir. David Siegel and Scott McGehee | Haley Lu Richardson, Owen Teague, Kimberly Guerrero, Gilbert Owuor, Asivak Koostachin, Eugene Brave Rock