My friend and producer Noah Lang shared Larry Watson's book 'Montana 1948' with me over a year ago and I finally got around to reading it yesterday (thank you Brooklyn Public Library). It’s a story that de-sentimentalizes the myth of America and in a small way seeks to correct the most dangerous and harmful of our public lies. The story demonstrates how a disturbing truth is preferable to a comforting lie - and a offers an appreciation of the moral complexity of our nation’s past and character.
Those reasons alone are enough to make this into a movie. I believe that this is a film that would win Academy Awards. I want to make that film but I can't find anyone in Hollywood who wants to take a chance with the material. Echo Lake Productions/Entertainment bought the rights to Larry Watson's novel years ago and I'm still trying to find a way into that room.
Here’s the synopsis from Wikipedia:
When David's Native American housekeeper Marie Little Soldier falls ill, Frank Hayden, the local doctor and David's uncle, is called. When Marie refuses medical treatment from Frank, David's mother, Gail, discovers that Frank has been using his medical status to prey on the local Native American women. David's father, Wesley, is the local sheriff and begins to investigate these allegations against his brother, but is in a difficult situation between his loyalty to his family and his obligation to justice.
When Marie is found dead, Frank convinces the family that the cause of death was pneumonia. Wesley later confronts Frank about his actions at a family dinner at their parents' house and they reach a compromise, where Wes agrees to forget the whole incident. David, who was playing with his grandfather's pistol, once contemplates shooting Frank because of all the troubles he has given their family. Eventually, David decides to tell his parents the truth - that he had witnessed Frank leaving their house around the same time Marie had died, implying that Frank had something to do with her death.
Wesley eventually arrests Frank, who confesses to killing Marie and molesting Indian women, and holds him captive in the basement, in order to avoid the embarrassment Frank would experience by going to the local jail. Wesley and Frank's controlling and racist father Julian is strongly opposed to Frank's arrest and sends men to break Frank free when Wesley is not home. Gail manages to scare them away by firing warning shots into the air, while David calls for help. Gail later pleads for Wes to take Frank out of their home. Wesley's moral values override his family loyalty and he agrees to take his brother to the local jail the next day, but later that night the family wakes to the sound of jars breaking in the basement. In the morning, Wesley finds that Frank committed suicide by slitting his wrists with the broken glass.
The epilogue in the book is very powerful, especially a single moment where David and his wife are having dinner with his parents years later. David’s father Wesley became a lawyer in North Dakota after what happened in Montana, and went on to lead a successful life and practice. At this dinner, David’s wife asks about that summer and Wes sits quietly for a second before slamming his hands on the table and yelling out loud - a sign of the lingering pain and conflict that has existed in him ever since this story tore his family apart. And then after everyone has gone to bed, David sits in his father’s chair in the empty dining room, his hands on the table, trying to understand what it has been like for his father to walk miles in his boots.