The Indian Runner

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The Indian Runner (1991)

Directed by Sean Penn

Starring: David Morse, Viggo Mortensen, Patricia Arquette, Charles Bronson, Dennis Hopper, Valeria Golino

Sean Penn based his directorial debut on the Bruce Springsteen song “Highway Patrolman”. This 1991 film was liked by the critics despite a poor showing at the box office. The movie stars big names like David Morse, Viggo Mortensen, Patricia Arquette, and Charles Bronson. Morse has had roles in movies like The Green Mile and Hurt Locker. Viggo Mortensen has been in a number of big films as well. Some of his more memorable roles include The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, A Perfect Murder, and A History of Violence. He’s also been in films like Carlito’s Way and Appaloosa.

Patricia Arquette also stars in the film. She’s been in a number of different movies and is the star of the hit show Medium. Charles Bronson might be best known as the tough guy he played in the Death Wish movies. His career actually included roles in some classic films including The Great Escape, The Dirty Dozen, and The Magnificent Seven.

Also featured in the film are Dennis Hopper and Valeria Golino. Hopper starred in the iconic film Easy Rider as well as the classic Apocalypse Now. The beautiful Valeria Golino has had roles in films like Rain Man and Frida.

Movie reviewer wedgwood summarized the plot quite eloquently:

An intensely sad film about two brothers who cannot overcome their opposite perceptions of life. One brother see’s and feels bad in everyone and everything, subsequently he is violent, antisocial and unable to appreciate or enjoy the good things which his brother desperately tries to point out to him. Frank (Mortensen) understands the atrocities of life as a big picture, Joe (Morse) does not, Joe is content to enjoy smaller pleasures; children, family, routine. Joe mistakenly believes he can straighten his little brother out and convince him that life is good. Frank is a cursed man. He is cut between his love for his brother and his repulsion at self-indulgent contentment. The result is a painful story of heartbreak, heartache, disappointment, despair, and the tragic side of love.

To call this “an intensely sad film” would be very accurate. The film feels like a slow motion video of a car crash. The camera work and editing do wonders for the emotional content of the story. The film is slower, but it seems to keep a pace that makes sense for everything that is happening to the main characters. Sean Penn did a good job in his first efforts as a director. His skills are not as evident in this film as they would be when he directed Into the Wild sixteen years later.

The acting in the film is good. Mortensen and Morse are better than the rest as they manage to bring out the unique dynamics of the two brothers from different worlds.

This film has its flaws as well. The movie starts with a beautiful scene that creates a wonderful feeling, sadly this feeling quickly escapes and doesn’t seem to be fully recaptured. The movie is also slightly predictable. The story is deep, but also very clear as to where it’s headed. In the end the movie also seems a bit long.

This is a good movie and probably unfamiliar to most casual movie fans. I would suggest this movie if you enjoyed Fargo or movies like that. I give this movie 3.4 out of 5 stars.

Rating: R

Running Time: 127 minutes


  1. Hello! I love films AND Viggo Mortensen.

    May I bring be more accurate on some dates to better understand VM’s career;
    1991 Indian Runner, that could have been his launching but wasn’t
    1994 Carlito’ way
    1998 Perfect Murder
    2001-2003 Lord of the Rings and apotheosis!!! Leading character!!!
    2005History of Violence
    2008 Appaloosa

    My english is full of mistakes but understandable and I understand quite well but SMS and geeks’.language. My mothertongue is french;


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