The shame is that such dedicated work is in a film that almost defiantly refuses any sort of nuance. It’s one of those projects that is constantly spelling out its themes through unrealistic dialogue. We don’t need a character who says, “If I could cut every memory from my head, I would.” We know that. It’s a film in which everyone is too often saying what they’re thinking and feeling, becoming way more interesting in its quieter moments, a downcast look from Foster or a sympathetic one from Krieps. They’re great performers—I just wished “The Survivor” wrapped a film around them that lived up to their abilities.
There’s a similar sense that solid performances are getting buried in lackluster filmmaking that pervades Scott McGehee and David Siegel’s disappointing family drama “Montana Story.” Two excellent young performers hold enough of it together, but a languid pace that feels almost designed to mimic the speed of life in Big Sky Country goes too far, leading to a film that drifts with the wind instead of driving home its emotional undercurrents.
Owen Teague (the recent version of “The Stand”) plays Cal Thorne, a young man who returns home from Cheyenne to the heart of Montana to basically say goodbye to his dying father Wade. Strapped into machines at his own ranch, the only people left around Wade are his longtime employee Valentina (Kimberly Guerrero) and his wise nurse Ace (Gilbert Owuor), who tells Cal that Wade has no more story left to tell. All of his chapters are written.
However, the same isn’t true for Cal or his sister Erin (Haley Lu Richardson), who comes home for the first time in seven years. The film takes too long to reveal why Erin was estranged from Cal and Wade, but it comes back to an abusive past, including one particular incident that divided siblings forever. “Montana Story” is basically about using a death of a father to heal the wounds he caused in the first place. Teague and Richardson don’t strike a single false note, but McGehee and Siegel allow their storytelling to meander across this dusty land, withholding aspects of their past instead of really allowing to breathe as characters. These two young performers are the kind who will likely win awards someday, but not for this one.