Eighteen years old and The Indian Runner still packs a punch. The story is simple, yet the emotions that pour from the characters are deeply complex. It revolves around two very different brothers. The opening scene screeches at you, literally, but this isn't an action flick. In fact, you spend a lot of time waiting. In my case, I pined for more scenes with Frank (Viggo Mortensen). See, part of the plot involves Frank running from his family, from responsibility, from love. But, when he's on-screen, especially with his brother, Joe (David Morse), he embodies the troubled bad-boy. Joe is also compelling, just in a tranquil manner. Former farmer-turned-cop Joe is struggling after killing a man. Shortly after, Frank rolls into town. Joe can't wait to see Frank, whose been away in the service. He's soon disappointed. He deals with Frank's distance again, and then, with Frank's violence. Joe doesn't give up. He asks Frank and his girlfriend, Dorothy (Patricia Arquette) to move in with him and his wife, Maria (Valeria Golino), until he can get on his feet. Frank does and, for a time, his life unfolds peacefully and productively.
Maria has firecracker energy and strength as Joe's wife. They share genuine affection and respect. You get the same chemistry in scenes with Joe and Frank, though you feel the imbalance between them--the crux of their struggle. Joe wants more but Frank can't give any more.
I couldn't relate to Dorothy. She's too ditzy and I don't buy it. I get that she's supposed to be young and naive in love, but it goes too far. Frank is a fuck-up but would he really be interested in Dorothy? It makes sense since he has little to offer and fears intimacy, and when she starts demanding more, Frank pulls a Frank. (I'm a fan of Patricia Arquette, but I would have preferred one similar to Alabama, her True Romance character.) Caesar (Dennis Hopper) rubbed me wrong. Each time he's on-screen, it was like nails on blackboard. He's a catalyst but he was flat. The movie has stretches of slow periods; it seemed symbolic of Joe's waiting.
Say what you want about the Sean Penn you hear about in the tabloids, but he's a true artist. This was his freshman effort at writing and directing and he does a smashing job.
Writer/Director: Sean Penn
Run time: 125 minutes