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The Indian Runner
Directed by Sean Penn
Produced by Don Phillips
Written by Sean Penn
Starring Viggo Mortensen
David Morse
Patricia Arquette
Valeria Golino
Charles Bronson
Dennis Hopper
Benicio del Toro
Music by Jack Nitzsche
David Lindley
Cinematography Anthony B. Richmond
Editing by Jay Cassidy
Distributed by MGM
Release date(s) September 20, 1991
Running time 127 minutes
Country United States
Language English

The Indian Runner is a 1991 drama film written and directed by Sean Penn. It is based on Bruce Springsteen's song, "Highway Patrolman".



The story, set in 1960s Nebraska, involves two very different brothers: Joe (David Morse) a small town deputy sheriff, and Frank (Viggo Mortensen), a criminal.

Before the events of the film, Joe had tried to farm for a living, but was unable to make ends meet, and the bank eventually foreclosed on his property. He became a deputy sheriff as a way to support his young wife (Valeria Golino) and child. Joe is a good, conscientious man, but has his own demons to fight with. The opening shot of the film shows a car chase which ends with Joe using his gun to kill a man in self-defense. This results in Joe's conflicted feelings about killing the criminal, as well as the praise and scorn from members of his community from this shooting. Frank, who had been involved with run-ins with the law before going to Vietnam, is described by his father (Charles Bronson) as having "restlessness". Upon his return to town, he breaks into his brother's home and is nearly shot by Joe's wife. The next day, Frank leaves town without ever stopping by his parents' home. As Joe states in the narration, Frank was correct in his assessment that his parents would understand, as they always seem to when he hurts those who love him.

Joe does not hear from his brother for some time, but eventually discovers that he is in jail in another state from their father, who had kept the information quiet to avoid upsetting their mother (Sandy Dennis). After their parents' death, Frank is released from prison and returns to his hometown with his pregnant girlfriend (Patricia Arquette). He tries to settle down and find a job, but keeps getting into trouble with the law — which, of course, puts him in conflict with Joe.

Critical reception

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times wrote that Joe and Frank represent not only the two sides of manhood in society, but also, possibly, the two sides of Sean Penn's own character.[1]


The movie was shot partially in Plattsmouth, Nebraska and Omaha, Nebraska. Joe was wearing the uniform of a Cass County Sheriff's Deputy.

Producer Don Phillips gave Penn's screenplay to two producers, who liked it but felt that the ending was not commercial enough to interest a Hollywood studio.[2] Phillips' friend Thom Mount, who had his own production company and was a big fan of Penn's work, thought that they might interest a studio if they could get a movie star like Tom Cruise interested in appearing in the film. Penn spotted Mortensen in the film Fresh Horses and was drawn to the actor's "angularity, a severity to his handsomeness", that he thought would be perfect for the role of Frank.[2]

Penn and Phillips sent Mortensen the script while he was making Young Guns II in Tucson, Arizona and flew there to meet with him.[2] The actor agreed to star in Penn's film. Penn had Morse and Mortensen rehearse their pivotal scene in a bar for two weeks. The director had a bar set up in a gymnasium which allowed the actors to blow off steam by shooting baskets in between rehearsals. While making the film, Penn felt that Mortensen's "inherent kindness" was too visible and had him work with a member of the Hell's Angels motorcycle club that the director knew in order to acquire an edginess that Penn felt necessary for the character.

The Indian Runner is the last film to feature Sandy Dennis, who died shortly after it was released. [2]


  1. ^ :: :: Reviews :: The Indian Runner (xhtml)
  2. ^ a b c d Kelly, Richard T (2005). "Sean Penn: His Life and Times". Faber and Faber.  

External links



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