MONTANA STORY (2022)

May 27, 2022

Greetings again from the darkness. Watching two of our most talented young actors do their thing within the framework of old-fashioned storytelling and a breathtaking geographic setting is just about as good as it gets in independent filmmaking. The pacing may be a bit slow for some viewers, but the joy here is in watching two actors own their characters and battle through the emotions that tore apart a family.

Co-writers and co-directors Scott McGehee and David Siegel previously collaborated on WHAT MAISIE KNEW (2012) and BEE SEASON (2005), and are joined this time by co-writer Mike Spreter. We certainly can debate the script’s handling of specific moments, but Haley Lu Richardson (OPERATION FINALE, 2018, the underrated COLUMBUS, 2017, SPLIT, 2016, and THE BRONZE, 2015) and Owen Teague (best known for the two recent IT movies, and he’s also delivered in two recent films, TO LESLIE and THE COW) are the reason we buy in quickly and stay engaged to the breakthrough.

Cal (Mr. Teague) returns to the ranch where he grew up when he’s notified his father has had a stroke and is in a coma on life support. Cal readies the ranch for a bankruptcy sale and tends to the other business issues while Kenyan nurse Ace (Gilbert Ouwor) takes care of the father. Longtime housekeeper Valentina (Kimberly Guerrero, Winona from “Seinfeld”) helps when she can, but the ranch itself, including some chickens and an arthritic 25-year-old horse, Mr. T, aren’t much better off than Cal’s comatose dad. Cal is shocked when he sees that his estranged sister Erin (Ms. Richardson) has returned in order to say goodbye to their dad.

The film is at its best as Cal and Erin (I’m sure it’s a coincidence that the EAST OF EDEN siblings were named Cal and Aron) strain to avoid the discussion of what caused the split. It takes a while for us to get the details, but the scene is devastating for both characters, and the actors pull it off beautifully. A single night, seven years ago, blew up a family and led to broken trust and pent-up anger and animosity in Erin, and near debilitating guilt and sadness in Cal. Doing the right thing plays a recurring role here in regards to Erin’s high school article, Cal’s decision on Mr. T, and their dad’s job and actions.

Family relationships can be tainted and forever altered by a traumatic event, and rebuilding that trust requires raw pain and emotion … and even then, there are no guarantees. Additional supporting work is provided by Eugene Brave Rock and Asivak Koostachin, each of whom bring a touch of humor to their character (“sentimental horsey girl”) – or perhaps it just seems that way due to the intensity of Erin and Cal. There is a terrific scene where Cal and Erin ‘negotiate’ her spontaneous purchase of a pickup and trailer, and the meaning is hard to miss as Erin educates Cal on Dante’s circles of Hell in “Inferno”. Kudos to rising stars Haley Lu Richardson and Owen Teague for capturing a strained sibling dynamic and showing how trauma can have varying effects. Thanks also to cinematographer Giles Nuttgens (HELL OR HIGH WATER) for the sprawling Montana landscape and mountain vistas. This is a “western” only in the sense that it takes place out west and in near isolation, with most folks only speaking when necessary. It is a kind of showdown between brother and sister, but the weapons are words and memories, not pistols.

WATCH THE TRAILER


WHAT MAISIE KNEW (2013)

June 10, 2013

maisie1 Greetings again from the darkness. An ultra-modern indie update of the 1897 Henry James novel introduces us to parents we know, but wish we didn’t. Steve Coogan plays Beale, a self-absorbed art dealer. Julianne Moore plays Susanna, a self-absorbed rock star. OK, you and I may not know art dealers and rock stars, but we know self-absorbed types and we know they make terrible parents. So not only do we know it, but it’s also what Maisie knows.

Five outstanding performances and strong work by co-directors Scott McGhee and David Siegel prevent this one from spinning off into the neverlands of melodramatic muck. Onata Aprile is a wonder as Maisie. She displays none of the typical “movie kid” precociousness. The movie (and James novel) are told from her point of view. We see the fragmented bits and pieces she experiences as her parents fight. Rather than a full story drowning in details, we share her maisie3moments of late pick-ups, early drop-offs and forgotten trips.

Soon enough Beale and Susanna are divorced and the real wars begin. These despicable adults make little effort in hiding their hatred of each other from 6 year old Maisie. It becomes background noise to her life. Further proof of the epic narcissism from both: Beale soon marries Margot the nanny (played by Joanna Vanderham) and Susanna reacts by marrying Lincoln, a simple-minded band gopher and bartender played by studly but Alexander Skarsgard. The most startling moment of the movie occurs when Lincoln first begins playing with Maisie … it’s as if we had almost forgotten what it means to give your attention to a child.

maisie2 This is not an easy film to watch … at least if you understand that parenting means putting yourself second. The directors do a wonderful job of showing us how Maisie takes in moments and what memories she makes from these. The neglect and false moments of caring from her parents make her acceptance of the attention to her step-parents even more poignant. We can’t help but hope things work out for this little girl and it’s a reminder that childhood innocence cannot be recaptured once lost … and it’s worth hanging on to for as long as possible.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you want to see a realistic and terrific performance from child actor Onata Aprile OR you’ve always believed that Henry James doesn’t translate to the big screen

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: the last thing you wish to see is two more pathetic parents

watch the trailer:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=68pgeWPc-QI