Within the deft genre rethink “Montana Story,” the American flag doesn’t just flutter and wave, it also sends a warning. It looks so unassuming. Clean and neat, without frayed edges or faded colours, it flies from a tall pole planted in front of a handsome two-story home. There, on 200 acres in southwestern Montana, in an excellent area girdled by mountains often known as Paradise Valley, nature beckons and soothes. It looks like heaven; it takes some time to see the rot.
The administrators Scott McGehee and David Siegel don’t linger on the flag. As an alternative, they gently nose you right into a classic western milieu while concurrently pulling you right into a simmering family melodrama about two adult children grappling with one another and their terminally sick father. He’s the one who bought the family ranch years earlier and — with loads of help, pretty horses and unethically lined pockets — took up the quintessential American role of the cowboy. That archetype is critical to each his legacy and the movie’s larger ambitions, which draw a line between one man’s patrimony and the country’s fraught bequest.
It’s nearing winter when the youngest, Cal (Owen Teague), rolls as much as the ranch in his truck. Lanky and in his early 20s, he has the loose limbs of a person who hasn’t settled into his body and a reputation that evokes “East of Eden,” one other domestic drama. Here, the family’s history emerges with discretion, with visual cues and tense talks involving red-alert words like bankruptcy. Cal’s father, Wade (Rob Story), has had a stroke. Comatose and hooked to a machine that keeps his heart pumping, he now languishes within the study, cared for by a nurse, Ace (Gilbert Owuor), and a housekeeper, Valentina (Kimberly Guerrero).
Despite the bad news and Cal’s furrowed brow over the unpaid bills, there may be an inviting, relaxed quality to this narrative table setting, to the introductions, the fastidiously arranged genre elements and the casual way the parts begin sliding into place. A part of what’s appealing, even lulling, is that you’re thinking that you’ve seen this before, if not necessarily in person. With its vistas, small town, lonely ranch and dusty roads, the Montana here looks pretty very like what you’d expect. It’s beautiful, isolated, rugged; it’s also a world that in image and in ethos was partly invented by Hollywood (and currently available to rent through Airbnb).