Combustible Celluloid
Own it:
Search for Posters
Search for streaming:
NetflixHuluGoogle PlayGooglePlayCan I
With: David Morse, Viggo Mortensen, Valeria Golino, Patricia Arquette, Charles Bronson, Sandy Dennis, Dennis Hopper, Jordan Rhodes, Enzo Rossi, Harry Crews, Eileen Ryan
Written by: Sean Penn
Directed by: Sean Penn
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 127
Date: 05/01/1991

The Indian Runner (1991)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Brave Art

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Set in 1968, Sean Penn's writing and directing debut chronicles the ages-old story of good brother against bad. Joe (David Morse) is a small town deputy sheriff with a beautiful wife (Valeria Golino) and son. His troubled brother Frank (Viggo Mortensen) returns from Vietnam, tries to go straight and marries his pregnant girlfriend (Patricia Arquette) but eventually succumbs to his violent side.

Based on Bruce Springsteen's song "Highway Patrolman," The Indian Runner (1991) deliberately strolls in John Cassavetes territory, concentrating on dialogue, characters and acting above all else. But Penn succumbs to too many cutesy montages and too much "Indian" dream imagery, explaining and exploiting the title again and again. Even so, the excellent cast -- including Charles Bronson as the boys' dad and Dennis Hopper as a bartender who fuels Frank's rage -- more than carries the weight.

The actors are so subtle and so in touch with the moment that Cassavetes himself would have been proud of them. Arquette in particular contributes some wonderful moments as a partially reformed flower child, letting out cheerful primal screams whenever she's in the mood. Bonuses include: Benicio Del Toro appearing in a small role, trading marijuana for English-language classes, and a clip from John Ford's Rio Grande playing on television.

In 2017, Kino Lorber released a very good Blu-ray edition, with fine picture (blacks are strong, colors are appropriately muted with little bursts of brightness) and a good 5.1 surround audio track. It comes with a brand-new 26-minute behind-the-scenes featurette, featuring interviews with writer/director Penn and actors Mortensen and Morse. It also comes with a trailer for this and other KL releases.

Movies Unlimtied