A tortured examination of the disintegration of a Mid-western family, The Indian Runner is very much actors’ cinema. Rambling, indulgent and joltingly raw at times, Sean Penn’s first outing as a director takes a fair amount of patience to get through but has an integrity that intermittently serves it well.
Inspired by the Bruce Springsteen song ‘Highway Patrolman,’ overwrought piece looks at the muted tragedy of two brothers in the late 1960s. Joe (David Morse) is a small-town Nebraska cop who tries to welcome his brother Frank (Viggo Mortensen) back into the fold after the latter returns from a stint in Vietnam, but Frank immediately takes off.
Learning that Frank has been in prison, Joe goes to pick him up but Frank shacks up with a blonde sprite named Dorothy (Patricia Arquette). Along the way, traumas hit the family like clockwork.
All this takes more than two hours to get through because Penn, as writer and director, lets his scenes play out at great length. Actors, notably Morse and Mortensen, come off to decent advantage. Charles Bronson puts in a supporting interp of repressed hysteria as the father, while Sandy Dennis and Dennis Hopper are in briefly as the mother and a local bartender. Valeria Golino and Arquette are vital as the women in the brothers’ lives.