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  • john-130224 November 2004
    I spent over a decade watching and reviewing films for my job at MTV Europe. Even before and since I voraciously consume cinema of truly all kinds as a passion, I don't care about genre or even subject, only that a work is honest, inspired, effective. As with any art, of course.

    I saw The Indian Runner at its Cannes film festival debut in 1991 and left the Grand Palais screening speechless. Where to start? We often hear about the usual checklist of script, acting, cinematography, editing, music, and so on, and of course all are stellar here. But it's the magic of the mix of all these and so many more subtleties about the experience of this film that makes it not just a terrific, achingly beautiful thing, moving, illuminating, but, I believe, having revisited it so many times over the last thirteen years (like so very few others among the hundreds seen once), one that is important and bound for a belated re- positioning as a cinematic gem in the history books of the future.

    Cassavetes is clearly a major force behind this in the best possible way; he'd have stood up and applauded the way Penn took his spirit, his openness and gave it a more cinematic scope, color, pace, size, without compromising his own direct gaze on the human condition. Before this film Cassavetes' huge contribution had not been properly picked up, the baton in some respects still dangling where the late auteur had left it years back. In Indian Runner Penn points the way forward for this bold tone of cinematic voice (in a way to my mind even more clear than in his subsequent The Crossing Guard and The Pledge). The moment at the start of the film when Joe's dead victim's father begins singing a work song at the police station still stands out as the revelation that this movie had its own palette. I could go on and on but I'd probably bore... even ME (like Frank, no?).

    What struck me in Cannes and forever since is how this massive achievement was so overlooked by other critics and then the public. I felt I was simply out of step but never wavered in my commitment to the film as a private cause which I'm pleased to say everyone I've talked into seeing it has agreed during exciting post-mortems. Also, as with great works in general, I notice it only gets better with repeated visits over the years. And seeing the comments about it on this site has cheered me up no end. I'm not alone!

    It's one thing for a film to endure; another entirely for it to emerge from obscurity years after it was made and left aside. That very trajectory, likely, it seems now, for The Indian Runner, is going to become one of its many very special qualities. Conversations about its simple and complex strengths are gaining a new dimension with this look into what it was that made it so inaccessible to most of its viewers for its first decade and what it is and will be that finally unmasks the gem that until now was so oddly neglected. Suddenly it's on DVD and people are discussing it. Could it be good taste or whatever you call this kind of appreciation is on the rise? Wow. Reasons to be cheerful indeed.

    And for those of us who first came across Viggo Mortenson here, imagine how itchy it made us sitting through his fine but passionless Lord of the Rings!

    Here's to poetry, vision, and honesty about pain and life without judgment. Lord knows it's rare these days.
  • This film has deeply affected me. The first time I saw it I had tears pouring down my face throughout. The second time I found myself really getting into it. Sure, you know what it's about from the other reviews. We ask ourselves why Frank isn't content with life. Most of us would feel closer to Joe, but Penn enables us to sympathise with this wretched character of Frank. He's not a nice guy. Myself; I am happy that this film is not necessarily a period piece. It takes a while for you to understand in what context the film is set. What makes this movie so good is that is underlining message remains ambiguous. This is certainly a film that will stand the test of time. It's not about the nation of America during the 70's. It's about the relationship of two brothers, and one just so happens to have come back from Vietnam. It could have been set in 2003 and the underlying message would remain the same. The talent of Penn is in that he never once blames Frank's actions on the Vietnam War. He was a bad kid before the War. I urge everyone to see this movie. You will either sympathise with the characters and understand the underlying message or you will not. I also urge you to open your mind before you see the movie, and if you don't understand it. Think about it for a while longer.
  • Few actors who move over to directing have done so with as much success (artistically) as Sean Penn. John Cassavetes, a major source of inspiration to Penn, did so in the past, and Penn is one of the very few to follow in his footsteps who could possibly end up rivalling him as a maker of complex and haunting character based dramas. 'The Indian Runner' was Penn's directorial debut, and it is an extremely impressive achievement. Inspired by Springsteen's song 'Highway Patrolman' (from his underrated 'Nebraska' album from the early 1980s), it is a slow, almost hypnotic look at two brothers with totally different world views and their attempts to come to terms with each other. The siblings are played by David Morse ('Twelve Monkeys') and Viggo Mortensen ('The Prophecy'), and both performances are superb, and career high points. Mortensen is now a major movie star due to his involvement in the 'Lord Of The Rings' trilogy, but for his best acting work look no further than here. The rest of the movie features a first rate supporting cast which includes Valeria Golina ('Rain Man') and Patricia Arquette ('True Romance') as the brother's respective love interests, and veterans Dennis Hopper ('Blue Velvet') and Charles Bronson ('Death Wish'), testament to the respect Penn has in the acting community, I'd say. Bronson, who plays the father, puts in an uncharacteristically subdued performance, one of his best ever. Also keep an eye out for Benicio Del Toro ('The Usual Suspects') in a small cameo, and Penn's mother Eileen Ryan ('At Close Range'). This movie may not be to everyone's taste, but I was knocked out by it. Easily one of the most overlooked dramas of the 1990s. Highly recommended.
  • What word better describes this picture than `strong'? Strong characters, strong actors, strong directorial choices. Brilliant writing and a performance that told anyone who saw it that it was only a matter of time before Viggo Mortensen became a somewhat unwieldy household name. Everybody shines, everybody is used more intelligently than they were very often. Valeria Golino didn't have a part this good until `Frida,' Charles Bronson is given room to stretch, Patricia Arquette gives her best performance ever by far (doesn't she look a bit like Robin Wright in this film?), and David Morse is always excellent, I see that he directs TV from his bio, hopefully he'll try a feature soon. Just like `Jesus' Son' another film set around the 60's/70's split, if this film had been made in the time in which it is set it would have been a classic. As it is it hasn't even been released on DVD yet, which is embarrassing. I wasn't the biggest fan of `The Pledge' and actually didn't know that A) Sean Penn had a film like this in him, though I suspected, or that B) he made that film more than 10 years ago.

    One false step was using someone giving birth for that scene. We know it isn't Patricia Arquette, it is unnerving to watch someone give birth even if you know them but especially when you have some random person splayed out in front of the camera. Immediately I was taken out of it, wondering who would volunteer to have a baby for a film. Oh, and you never ever really believe it's 1963.

    Certain shots are eerily reminiscent of the haunted and empty America we see in Philip Ridley's `The Reflecting Skin,' a Viggo Mortensen film from the year before.

    Greatest thing about the film is that it doesn't try too hard. With symbolism, with drama, it lets the people do their work and what happens is consistently interesting. It has a great soundtrack and more importantly music is used well within the film. The film is even more poignant considering that it come from the famously volatile, occasionally traditional occasionally misanthropic but always mercurial Penn.
  • The only reason I wanted to see The Indian Runner was because of the stunning multi-talented Viggo Mortensen. But I have to admit that this movie touched me. When it finished I sat for about half an hour just thinking 'why?'

    The movie moves along quite slowly but I think it was meant to. Penn wanted us to see, feel and identify with the characters. To witness the bond between the two brothers and Frank's struggle to tame himself.

    And we do. Viggo shows amazing range as an actor here and is easily one of the best films he has ever done. We see Frank go from relaxed to angry to livid to sorrowful and are drawn in to his tortured soul. Mortensen makes us want to feel for the character and we desperately want him to be happy. His emotions evoke a wide range of emotions in ourselves. His performance is nothing short of astounding. We never know if we are meant to hate Frank or feel sorry for him but we gradually begin to love him and want to understand why he is so angry with the world due to Mortensen's performance. Where was the Oscar this year???

    The rest of the cast shine as well. David Morse is utterly convincing as a man trying to salvage the last remains of his disintergrating family and the actress who plays his wife is equally good.

    All I can say is WATCH IT!
  • throwback-18 February 2003
    Absolutely one of my favorite films of all time. Not enough real movies like this. Tells an important tale of family, love and loss. Sean Penn is a national treasure as both an actor and filmmaker. David Morse and Viggo Mortensen give their best performances of their careers. Charles Bronson is such a surprise as the father.
  • A great melodrama in a small town during the seventies about two grown-up brothers; Joe (David Morse), is married and a deputy sheriff who seems to be highly devoted to his job. Frank (Viggo Mortensen), who is the younger one of the pair, comes back from Vietnam even though he has the habit of being a troublemaker.

    Morse and Mortensen are nothing short of excellent in their performances and are backed up by a solid supporting cast (Valerina Gorlino, Patricia Arquette, Dennis Hopper, Sandy Dennis, and Charles Bronson). Out of the bunch, Bronson is the one to watch here as the boys' quiet and solemn father and he treats it to perfection. In one scene, he tells Joe while they're sitting out on the porch that he was wrong about Joe marrying Maria (Gorlino), who is Mexican.

    There another surprise that makes the film more compelling to watch is that it's the directing and writing debut of actor Sean Penn. The movie was inspired by the Bruce Springsteen song that's called "Highway Patrolman".

    Anthony Richmond's cinematography is extroadinary and the musical score by the late Jack Nitzsche is very solid.

    "The Indian Runner" presented a rare and very interesting question to me: "Why doesn't any movie director make a film that shows the two sides (bright and dark) of the director themself?"

    In conclusion, this movie is intelligent and seriously moving. And it shows that Penn can write and direct beside act.
  • desperateliving25 January 2005
    There are a few of us who feel that Sean Penn is one of the major driving forces in American cinema, an actor of pure artistic intentions, utter sincerity and empathy, and thoughtful (if often misconstrued) politics. He's kind of an heir to a few different giants -- Brando, in terms of rough sexuality and pugnacity; Nicholson, in terms of intelligence as an actor (he shares with both a volatile, sometimes over-the-top acting style and tendency to play human beings with emotions rather than playing acting techniques); and Cassavetes, emphasized with this film (which he dedicates to him). He's more meticulous and crafty than Cassavetes, but just as emotionally direct. (And like him, there may be times where you don't know what to think of what you're seeing; I think that's true of anything original, or anything that eschews typical film conventions.) But despite that similarity, the film isn't quite real -- the Indian mythos, the narration of David Morse, Viggo Mortenson hopping on a moving train. It's the stuff of hazy dreams. The whole picture is imbued with a quiet feeling -- you wish you could show it to those on the right who hate Penn for his outspoken politics, just to prove that he cares deeply about exactly the type of people they think he and his Hollywood friends are against.

    At first the Indian stuff is a little cheesy, but it leads up to a climax where it really works and feels organic. More than being an actor who can direct, Penn is at times a real master -- he's got a rare gift of ending films with a real punch, without it being cheap. Here, the film gets more technically flamboyant as it goes along -- the camera moves a little more, the inter cutting between a few different scenes gets quicker -- and it ends wonderfully. You have to have a certain willingness to go along with the story that Penn's telling (many times characters do things that don't make any logical sense, but emotionally it fits), and the semi-metaphysical closing really worked for me.

    Part of the value is in the chance to see good actors work; it's strange that actors known for their histrionics so often direct films that are completely devoid of showiness in terms of acting. That is to say, when Mortensen freaks out on his wife (Patricia Arquette, whose constant squeals are incredibly -- and aptly -- uncomfortable), it's tense because of the exchange of emotions and not because of any actorly shaking or screaming. Penn is a very generous director, and I think that's shown by his allowing Charles Bronson to do some of the finest work of his career. The movie feels very indebted to the '70s, what with a few of the zooms, the folk/rock music, and the kind of small, rural movie this is that rarely gets made anymore. (It owes something to Dennis Hopper's own films, I think; specifically in Mortensen's speech about the "math kids.") 8/10
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Penn was 30 when he made this movie,and it seems to be a mature director's work.Although it takes place in America,it has an European sensitivity;in a nutshell,it recalls John Cassavetes (to whom the film is dedicated) and Kenneth Loach. Connection with John Cassavetes? Penn refuses any dramatization;the mother's death (Sandy Dennis has only a cameo)is totally non-melodramatic:a short scene between the father (almost unrecognizable Bronson,in a part diametrically opposite to his usual he-man performances)and Joe,another one between the two brothers,in which emotion is so subdued it takes a stranger -Dorothy,Frank's girlfriend- to shed a few tears.No dramatization too when Frank smashes the man's face in:we only see Frank's bloody face. Frank was a Vietnam veteran,but never Penn uses it as an excuse or an explanation as far his behavior is concerned:no flashbacks,no bad dreams,no hints at the war he had to fight,no clichés.Joe is a good man,he's an Abel who wants his brother to find his "delicate balance" although he does know it's impossible.It seems that this impossibility has its roots in childhood,as Penn insists on the picture of the little boy dressed as a cowboy with a pair of revolvers.Some are born to endless night,some are born to sweet delight. And here's the connection with Loach:like him,he focuses on ordinary people,on the small joys of their routine life.Joe dreams of a simple happiness,between his wife and his kid.He knows that life is hard,but he wants to hope against hope,and his nephew's birth is to him one of these sweet delights he has learned to content himself with.The last sentence is a message of hope,and God knows how much we need it.The late Laura Nyro wrote this line:"and when I die,there will be a child born to carry on".
  • Warning: Spoilers
    There is something in most of us, especially guys, that admires some really working class small town "real men" populist fare. And Sean Penn serves it up for us with a cherry on top. Hey, A lot of people use Penn as a political whipping boy, but I don't rate movies or actor/directors based on politics or personality. That is what right wing commentators like excretable faux movie reviewer Debbie Schlussel does. While acknowledging he is one of our best actors and a good director, I think this picture was a simplistic piece of aimless dreck that he has atoned for since.

    Okay, you have the gist of this there is this good cop, a small town trooper, Joe, played against type by David Morse, who in the opening scene chases some guy on a country farm road in big sixties cars. The bad guy stops, gets out, shoots at him so Joe has to blast him dead. There was no explanation what drove this man to do such a desperate violent thing and the dead man's parents do some redneck freak out at the police station while Joe feels real sad and guilty that he had to kill someone. So we know that Joe, the farmer forced off his land into a cop job, is a good basic sort of guy. Then his brother Frank shows up, he is a sadistic, amoral bully, fresh out of the Army and Nam where the war got his blood lust up. Some people here and in other reviews called him just an irresponsible hell raising younger brother and Sean was trying to make some point about what our John Wayne tough guy culture and war does to otherwise good people but what I saw was an amoral, sadistic bully who enjoys hurting and ripping people off. Then there is mom and dad, Marsha Mason and Charles Bronson, who do the requisite turn as old fashioned country couple, then die off; she by illness and he by shotgun suicide, to advance the story for us. Both times Frank the bad guy is away being a miserable SOB. But good Joe brings him back to Podunksville from jail so Frank can straighten his life out by welding bridges and living with his utterly stupid screaming trashy pregnant wife. But Joe has a nice wife, played by Italian actress Valeria Golina, who is Mexican and Sean uses this as an exercise in some affirmative action embellishment of goody Joe and his real soulfulness underneath his uniform and crew cut. For me, that was an utterly pointless affirmative action subplot that Sean uses to burnish his tough guy creds by sucking up to Mexicans because Mexicans are so tough and cool.

    But Frank is bad and we get the requisite events like stealing friend's car, robbing gas station by beating the clerk over the head then torching the car and all those cool things that hell raisers do. Then there are the mandatory 8mm film childhood flashbacks of young Joey dutifully moving the lawn and cowboy dressed Franky jumping on his back and wrestling him and yadda yadda so we all know what deep bond there is between the two of them.

    So the film meanders around with a lot of small town schlock to warm the heart of any red stater. Accompanying the film was a great soundtrack of good sixties songs like Jefferson Airplane and Janis Joplin which were totally inappropriate, except for the 60's era effect, to win the hearts of old hippies. The worst offense is that, since the movie was inspired by a Springsteen song, "The Highway Patrolman", that song was not included.

    So Joe's brain dead wife goes into labor and Joe runs off to the bar to get loaded and spout some populists drunken victim's spiel about how tough things are while good Joey comes to drag him back to his wife. The bartender is good Ole Ceasar, played by Dennis Hopper. So Viggo - Frank whigs out for no particular reason and beats his pal Ceasar to death after good Joe the Cop leaves.

    So Joe has chase his bad brother down and I was so hoping that he would do the right thing and blow that menace to society away. Instead we get a scene where his brother stops ahead of him in some old 50's junker on some lonely road at night, and little Franky in his cowboy suit and cap guns gets out of the car to face good Joe, the kid from the 8mm flashback home movie sequence. Oy, such dreck! Then to top off this drecky sap fest, there is some Zen crap about the Indian runner, who is a messenger, becomes the message, ala Marshall MacLuhen? See what I mean, Sean has done much better than this so don't be afraid to miss this one.
  • Thin story concerns two small town brothers and their struggles over family honor. David Morse is the responsible, straight-laced cop and 'good' brother; Viggo Mortensen, the 'bad' boy, is a former soldier and ex-convict. As an actor (particularly in his earliest years), Sean Penn seems to have modulated his performances under the Method. Turning first-time writer and director for this arty, obtuse drama, he works his script and characters out through the same methodical process, slowing the pacing down to a crawl (ostensibly so we can catch every nuance and inflection). This approach might be fascinating if there were three-dimensional characters to care about, but photogenic Morse and Mortensen aren't really convincing as siblings. Worse, we expect more from prominently-billed veterans Charles Bronson and Sandy Dennis, who hardly get a chance to come through with anything interesting. The picture is balky with turgid sequences, a wobbly narrative and confusing editing (always slanted to point up the artistic excesses). Penn's tricks with the camera show off a talented eye, yet they are mostly an irritation. *1/2 from ****
  • I don't like Sean Penn's directing very much, and this early work, The Indian Runner, is no exception. The movie has no core, it's colored with a kind of redneck, anti-authoritarian tweeness that in all honesty taints most of Penn's work, his latest work even more so than the earlier. Frank Miller, Robert Rodriguez, Clint Eastwood, Sean Penn, the whole lot seem to produce such fundamentally banal product, ostensibly in some allegiance to honesty, but ending up being, for the most part, glorified pro wrestling matches, and moralistic, almost as if Hallmark cards had developed a line of Hell's Angels greetings, and make me long for the days of Deliverance, which is a fine movie. Viggo Mortensen's acting is much, much more believable here than that ridiculous Eastern Promises thing he did with Cronenberg, and that's about it. The movie is dead meaningless, and seems to be an exercise, a series of techniques, more than a story. Kudos for Charles Bronson, however, who proves he can act. And I wanted more of Sandy Dennis' character. A lousy 3 out of 10 for this The Indian Runner crap.
  • There is only one thing essential to thorough appreciation of The Indian Runner. Unzip your trousers. Peek inside. Is there evidence of a Y chromosome? Okay, you'll do.

    This film has all the male requisites: blood, guns, car chases, fond women, death, multiple tattoos, cigarettes, liquor, violence, pyrotechnics -- what have I left out? -- oh, yeah, blowtorches.

    As a woman, I seriously hope Sean Penn regards this as a `when I was a child...' kind of effort. Since he both wrote and directed the thing, he's nearly solely responsible. An uneven cast (Viggo Mortensen as usual demonstrating brilliantly how the job's supposed to be done) tries to save Penn. Too late. The lines and action are there. Even devoted, skilled acting can't change those.

    I found this movie puerile and silly, as well as predictable. The dialogue staggers along -- Sandy Dennis has my respect for trying to breathe life into a woodenly maternal monologue without motherly authenticity. Then she dies. After a bit, so does the protagonists' father, played by Charles Bronson. Their absence is hardly noticeable.

    At intervals, the pyrotechnics, etc., noted above appear to liven things up and scare the audience into thinking something significant is occurring.

    If you're male and under 25, you may adore this film. Plan to return to it at 35. Think you'll still like it?

    I don't think so.
  • Boring film that breaks no new ground whatsoever! One would think that for a first movie, director Sean Penn would avoid the standard story of two brothers, one decent and the other not. Apparently not. What I guess Penn thought was an impressive directorial device, a big emphasis on extraneous noises, didn't add to anything. As for the movie, as far as I can tell, the message was: "hey, maniacs are OK to be free as long as their relatives say they're good somewhere inside". And let's not forget all the association with cigarettes, pot and alcohol. I think that this film is the standard for first-year film students. Amateurish junk.
  • Penn takes the time to develop his characters, and we almost care about them. However there are some real problems with the story here, we see no real motivation for the evil brother's behavior, and the time line is screwed up. Supposedly set in 1963, the music is late 60s/early 70s. The references and dialogue is 70s/80s. The potential for a powerful climax presents itself, and Penn allows it to slip away. But even with all these difficulties it is worth the watch, but not great.
  • epevae5 November 2002
    Deceived by the title, pondering over a bizarre story, the Indian Runner became like his message: hard to come by. The insinuated events left little true action except for the killing at the beginning. It might be interesting to watch it, though not at a late hour, since it provides too little fascination. Solely enchanting Particia Arquette saved the film from receiving an even lower rating. Good idea, but ...
  • Had high hopes for this film. Almost unwatchable at times. Some of the camera moves don't work, and come off as amateurish. The two leads weren't believable as brothers. The choice of songs? They didn't fit at all. Very awkward. And comparing Penn to Cassavetes? That's like comparing Jeff Spicoli to Atticus Finch.
  • Three Libras in this film, all three in the leading roles: David Morse, Viggo Mortensen and Valeria Golino. All three very good actors. "Helped" by four more and better actors, Patricia Arquette, Sandy Dennis, Charles Bronson and Dennis Hopper. However, the film is long and boring. The 2 hours and 7 minutes would have been much better in a 7 minute short film, it would have been perfect like that. As long as Mr. Sean Penn wanted to be, you got nothing to do but pray to end faster. Sandy Dennis's latest film and one of Charles Bronson's latest films, both great great actors. Even a dozen cool songs from the soundtrack do not save the movie from boredom.
  • buiger14 March 2012
    Warning: Spoilers
    I strongly disagree with the critics this time. I find it distressing and disturbing that in all these "avantguarde" movies, whether in Hollywood or in Europe, being crazy, irresponsible, inconsiderate and harmful to yourself and society is considered acceptable, even positive, along the lines of: "Oh the poor boy, he is just confused, he needs help".

    The poor boys do not need help, they need to be locked up with the key thrown away into the ocean... This only makes society more violent, our kids will never learn that they should become responsible citizens, since, when watching these movies, it looks like you can do whatever you want, whenever you want and to whomever without paying any penalty whatsoever (in this movie, Frank even kills a man for no reason apart from his own inner rage, and then he simply rides away into the sunset like some western hero with his sheriff brother watching him go...). No wonder our society is falling to pieces!

    One critic says that the Director Sean Penn must be familiar with split personalities and also violent ones in order to have made this film. This is one of the few things we agree upon. You have to be one sick motherf##### to have written the screenplay and directed this film, not a genius!
  • Sean Penn is a great actor, the best of his generation, so it would seem a bit much to think that he would be a great director. This is what I had in mind when I went to see 'The Indian Runner'. I couldn't be more wrong. Featuring great performances all around, Penn manages to succeed on almost every level. Bold, moving, tough, full of tender sadness, this film is a unique take on brotherhood and loss. Penn proves that he is not only an amazing director, but he is also a very brave screenwriter. The issues he chooses to feature are far from safe and he treats his characters so tenderly, even if they are broken beyond repair, that demonstrates a fascinating voice of his own, something very rare in a debut film. His latest film,'The Last Face', is facing terrible reviews but that doesn't mean Penn isn't a courageous artist. Using his fierce need for truth on what it means to love, to suffer, to exist, we might live long enough to see Sean Penn deliver his masterpiece. But even if we don't, we will always have 'The Indian Runner', and that's no small deal.
  • Donnellson27 February 2003
    This is a brilliantly written and directed anti-hero story by Sean Penn that takes place in the late 1960s during the latter stages of the war and protest marches. Joe and Frank Roberts, are played by David Morse, and Viggo Mortensen respectively. One brother is the small town hero and sheriff, the other an outlaw and outcast of the family and society.

    Frank's demons started before he went to service, but he came back a stranger to his brother Joe. Viggo Mortensen portrays Frank with an excellence that should never have been passed over for so many years. He is haunted by the ghost of an Indian Runner who carries a message from one tribe to another. His father, Charles Bronson, tells him they run independent of time and space, as they become the message. No Wolves. No Bears can ever get to the "message." Thus he lives his life as the "message" sheltered from ever allowing love to enter his heart as that is an "outside party" to him. Frank is at war with society that robs happiness and forces us to live in this Hell and not by personal choice but by `Their' choice.

    As Joe tries to figure out why Frank is such an angry person, we find out where the seed of that anger was planted at a family meal. (David Morse plays Joe with the right amount of understatement and poise.) Joe tries to break through this shell and Frank in turn would like to have the happiness in life that Joe does. Mortensen delivers the drunken nakedness of Frank to perfection with a classic quote: `Somebody was boring me, I think it was me.'

    Frank finds an unconditional loving, child-like girl, Dorothy that puts up with his jail time and tangents. (Dorothy is played ever so cleverly by Patricia Arquette, assisted by some perfected camera angles.) So, Joe glows with hope that he can pull the little brother he remembers back from the brink of Hell. For Joe it is all about the blood relationship of family, and for Frank--always on the brink of crossing over and being saved--it is about the shattered realities of life. The quirky trickster bartender Caesar (Dennis Hopper) always torments and tempts Frank like the devil. The final gut-wrenching sequence is perfectly laced with Frank finding importance of family-blood in living a happy life as he twitches with his wedding ring.

    The evidence of Frank's Indian Runner ghost influence is symbolically woven into the plot from beginning to end with the deer hunt, sound of warlike drums, cigarette smoke signals to the blood-painted warface and the car-running chase scene.

    It is incredibly unfortunate the Domestic film-going public ignored this classic, due to its European-style frankness toward sexuality and life's realities. Probably because - to paraphrase a quote from another film-We can't handle the truth. But you can right this wrong by seeing this film as it is a MUST SEE.
  • Perhaps it's no accident that Sean Penn would later go on to star in She's So Lovely, a film written by John Cassavetes and directed years after his death by his son, Nick. From just the looks of The Indian Runner (not least of which the dedication to John), Penn is a fan. It's not so much in the camera style, as he's rarely if ever taking a hand-held approach to things or letting his cinematographer be as deliberately all over the place as Cassavetes would allow. But emotionally, it's like a wound slowly opening to reveal itself after the initial shock of glancing at it. It's about two brothers with distinctly different paths in life, but who love each other (at least one clearly does) and can't stand to see how things have gotten so bad. And somehow that Indian Runner, a symbol of a weird kind of pure freedom, is always somewhere around.

    It's not about plot in any stretch but about characters, plain and simple. With great characters comes everything else that's needed, and here Penn scores as good as he ever has had in his short but rewarding career as director (this goes up there with the underrated The Pledge). We see this story unfold of Frankie and Joe, played by Viggo Mortensen and David Morse, one is a Vietnam vet with nothing to win or lose (until he meets a girlfriend, Patricia Arquette plays her), and the other is a cop happily married with a kid. When Frankie gets in trouble with the law repeatedly- and the two brothers' parents die over a period of time- they try and regroup together back in their hometown.

    Things have a funny way of not quite working out though for Frank, a loose cannon who ultimately blames the world for his problems. Of course, Vietnam could be enough, but it's never that simple to peg (one thinks looking at their brotherhood that Frank has been this way before, only now it's amplified), and it adds a level of psychotic complexity that, again, calls back to Cassavetes. What is it to be afraid of life, or ready to risk it all, are some questions Penn seriously poses (and leaves open for some answer)? And how does death haunt you if it's close and personal. The opening scene of Joe chasing after a guy and killing him after the other guy shot first, is a key one: he is justified in shooting him, but it's not an easy thing to live with killing another person. Joe knows it, and whether Frank did know it is open to interpretation. But one thing is for certain, which is that walking a fine line between peace and anger is a tough one for Frankie, and Joe has little to do but sit back and watch it unfold.

    Penn takes care writing all of these characters, not just the two principles but also supporting players like those played by Valeria Golino and, in his last serious part, Charles Bronson (sans beard) as the father, who is shook to the core after the death of his wife. Hell, even bit players get some quality screen time, as one scene with a woman sort of pestering Joe at his work about being available to listen if he needs it, or Dennis Hopper's two brief scenes as a bartender. All of the characters, and subsequently the actors, are given something to do, scene after scene, even if it's something we don't look forward to like Arquette's character screaming every other scene (she probably has the least depth of any character, but then not given much to do aside from being a stay-at-home to-be-mom watching her love go down the tubes mentally).

    Not every directorial choice made by Penn works, such as the cutaway to the actual 'birth' going on in the climax of the film, but enough are really strong to make it a must-see. It's really his gift in handling actors- even a lessor work like The Crossing Guard has its moments with its players- and here Mortensen is the one that gets to shine completely. Morse gives as good as he can, and it's a performance I won't forget, but Viggo is giving a De Niro Mean Streets kind of turn here, a completely honest and tortured performance of a man who doesn't quite know who he is, but he knows what he isn't which is at peace with himself. It's a sad, awesome portrayal that is as unforgettable as anything he's done in recent memory, Cronenberg films included.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    It is a marvelous film for many reasons and it has many meaningful interpretations. The first we can think of is of course the effect of the Vietnam War on a normal man. It made him someone whose desire to kill, whose need to kill could never be controlled and dominated. Nothing could keep him within the limits of normalcy, that is to say a violence that is purely symbolical or superficial. His desire was not to punch a few noses and be done with it, but it was to kill, and I repeat that was a need for him to be satisfied in order to survive. The second line is that of the two brothers. One chose to be a cop and he killed legally. That's not in anyway easy, but at least you can come to terms with it: you saved your life from someone who wanted to kill you, and that was legal. You can wonder why he shot to kill, right in the heart, but he was entirely justified to shoot, so why not to kill? The other chose to go to Vietnam and there he killed but it was never to really save his life, never really justified because it was not self defense on his own turf but aggression in a foreign country, and the killing was not exactly shooting at combatants, but more often at women and children. This seems to prove that the desire to kill is in any man, good or bad, and that the only choice you have is to do it legally and morally or not. Vietnam produced twisted, distorted and completely warped personalities for whom killing had become a need, just like alcohol or smoking for others. This leads to a confrontation between the two brothers and the dilemma for the cop who has to arrest or shoot his own brother. He chose differently. The third line is metaphorical. The guilt the cop had built in himself after killing the young chap who was running away and then started to shoot at him can only come out, be retrieved and rehabilitated if in a way or another the need to kill is projected into someone else and that someone else is forced to go away. The guilt has to be entrusted to some Indian runner who will take it away as if it were a message he has to go dump in the ocean or the infinite. But this meaning is metaphorically symbolical of us all. We all have to get rid of this death instinct, and here comes the ending of the film. It is a dream society will let us go without making us pay for that death instinct. And the price is called guilt because we have to repress it and then it will go on lurking in our minds forever. There is no Indian runner for our death instinct, just a repressed guilt that may come out one day, but when and how no one knows.

    Dr Jacques COULARDEAU, University Paris Dauphine, University Paris 1 Pantheon Sorbonne & University Versailles Saint Quentin en Yvelines
  • This fine debut from Penn introduces us to the range of underrated actors David Morse and Viggo Mortensen. While I agree that the film has its anachronisms, the plot is fairly compelling in its simple way. The film, however, belongs to the actors, who are uniformly excellent. Bronson deserves special mention for a lean, painful performance, free of the cant and false emotionalism that so often accompanies films about poor people in America. At times, "The Indian Runner" has the feel of John Sayles. Well done all around and worth a look.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    I remember my first time listening to Nebraska, the second Bruce Springsteen record I discovered, (after Born to Run of course) laying in my bedroom, imagining each song play out in my mind. That's one of the most appealing aspects of all of Bruce's work, the imagery he projects in your mind. Listening to his music is like closing your eyes and watching a short film play out. One of the most vivid images from the album is the closing verse of the song Highway Patrol Man, from which Sean Penn's directorial debut, The Indian Runner, was inspired.

    ''It was out at the crossroads, down round Willow bank Seen a Buick with Ohio plates behind the wheel was Frank Well I chased him through them county roads till a sign said Canadian border five miles from here I pulled over the side of the highway and watched his taillights disappear.''

    Penn's film, which he also scripted, begins with the narrator of the Springsteen song, Joe Roberts (David Morse) preparing for the return of his wayward brother, Frank (Viggo Mortenson) from Vietnam. The cast of supporting characters make up the rest of Joe's family, his wife (Valeria Golino) and his Mother (Sandy Dennis) and Father (Charles Bronson). Frank returns for only the briefest of periods and is gone again. A restless soul he returns to the road to keep at bay what he perceives to be the boredom and absurdity of day to day life. Quite like the Jack Nicholson character in Five Easy Pieces, Frankie is never far away from trouble, never far away from walking out on someone important in his life. He eventually returns with a girl, Dorothy (a fantastic Patricia Arquete), who's pregnant with his child. Frankie decides to make a stab at the kind of life his settled brother has established. But his nature is what it is and chaos is rarely far away from the troubled and semi psychotic Frankie.

    I mentioned Five Easy Pieces before and one of the things that struck me about this film, visually speaking, was that although made in 1991 it looks as if it was made in the seventies, in which it's set. I don't just mean that the car's and clothes are of the seventies, which of course they are. But the film itself looks as it was filmed in the seventies, reminding very me much of something like Badlands or indeed Five Easy Pieces. This is a commendable feat from the films photographer and this aspect gives The Indian Runner and its story a grainy authenticity. The story starts off at a slow pace and in the first half hour I wasn't sure if I was going to like it or not. But Penn gradually pushes up a few gears to tell a painful yet engrossing story about the relationship between these two brothers and how that relationship is defined by their contrasting perspectives of life.

    Joe is the guy next door, a good man with a wife, a child and a steady job. When Joe is called to use his fire arm in the course of duty he knows he does the right thing but still suffers from the guilt of the action. Frankie is restless and cannot subscribe to Joes happy and settled life. He's a candle burning at both ends and no matter how much Joe tries to encourage otherwise, all Frankie can see is the pain and the negativity in the world. Add to that a venomous temper and Frankie becomes a difficult person to love.

    Penn accompanies Joe and Frankie with a solid set of fully rounded supporting characters containing just as much depth as the two leads. There's Charlton Heston as Mr. Roberts, Joe and Frankie's father, who plays the angry and somewhat spiteful role with expert subtlety. Patricia Arquette is wonderfully quirky in one of the most intriguing roles in the film, as Frankie's girlfriend, Dorothy. Valeria Golino plays Joe's wife Maria, and their relationship and love appears both genuine and authentic.

    The Indian Runner starts off slow but it soon enough pulls us in to an absorbing and not so much an expected straight forward story of this brotherly relationship and how our differing points of view can both define and destroy relationships we have in life. It's also a story of trying to help those who cannot and do not want to help themselves which is always a captivating one.
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