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The Indian Runner Movie Review: The Indian Runner

Starring: David Morse, Viggo Mortensen
Director: Sean Pean
Rated: R
RunTime: 125 Minutes
Release Date: September 1991
Genre: Drama

*Also starring: Dennis Hopper, Kenny Stabler, Valeria Golino, Patricia Arquette, Charles Bronson, Sandy Dennis

Review by Dragan Antulov
No Rating Supplied

In early 1990s Sean Penn toyed with the idea of quitting the acting business and continuing his movie career behind the camera. First attempt in that direction was his 1991 drama THE INDIAN RUNNER.

The plot deals with two brothers from small Midwestern town. Joe Roberts (played by David Morse) had taken a job of deputy sheriff in order to provide for his family. He is forced to kill a youth in self- defence on the very day his brother Frank (played by Viggo Mortensen) is returning from Vietnam. This incident, very traumatic for Joe, is a sign of things to come because two brothers are complete opposites of each other. While Joe always tried to do the right thing, be dedicated family man and responsible member of society, Frank had been a victim of his violent temper and often ended in jail. Years later Frank is leaving jail and Joe meets his girlfriend Dorothy (played by Rosanna Arquette). Determined to set his brother straight once and for all, Joe takes Frank into his house, gets him a job, helps him start a family and tries to keep him out of trouble. But some characters don't change and the tragedy is unavoidable.

Penn claimed that he had found inspiration for this film in Bruce Springsteen's song "Highway Patrolman". More cynical observers would say that Penn could have found inspiration in his own life, particularly brawls with photojournalists and other incidents that had brought him notoriety during the first stages of his career. Penn probably saw THE INDIAN RUNNER as a way to prove himself as something more than tabloid fodder. The film indeed shows the mark of an emerging talent, especially in the way Penn (who doesn't appear in front of camera) allows his fellow actors to exploit their abilities. THE INDIAN RUNNER has plenty of very diverse acting talents that use diverse acting styles and create powerful performance. Although David Morse and Viggo Mortensen dominate the screen, the viewers would probably be very impressed with the appearance of Charles Bronson, here in very unusual role of old Roberts. Unfortunately, Penn in this film also showed typical beginner's mistake of being too much in love with his first movie and not using editor's scissors as much as he could. The movie is at least thirty minutes longer than it should be and the utter seriousness of the theme and tone of THE INDIAN RUNNER makes the viewing experience almost unbearable at times. The film failed but it wasn't such a tragedy for Penn or for the audience. Following this, Penn decided to continue acting and therefore provided the audience with some truly remarkable roles in 1990s.

Copyright 2003 Dragan Antulov

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