Sunday, May 3, 2009

[review] Indian Runner

Directorial debut from Sean Penn, this small, independent film is based upon - it states in the credits - a song from Bruce Springsteen. Movies are based upon books (The Road), plays (South Pacific), short stories (Minority Report), epic saga poems (Beowulf), and even in these days, video games (Wanted). But songs? I'm sure there are more and I just didn't notice them. The song is Highway Patrolman, off his Nebraska album. The movie stars Viggo Mortensen & David Morse (if you're old enough, you saw him on St. Elsewhere). Though with Charles Bronson & Dennis Hopper on the supporting cast, you'd think it couldn't be toooo horrible. Sure, I picked it up because Mortensen was it in - this was in the pre-LotR days - and I'd just seen him in American Yakuza (which I'd picked upon because I'd just seen him in G.I.Jane). So, basically, I saw this several years after it was made.

It's a simple, though not simplistic, story. Two brothers divided by experiences struggle at the division between them as adult men. One left to fight in Vietnam, the other stayed home & became the hometown sheriff. One is rather a hard-drinking drifter who enjoys the feminine delights of Saturday nights; the other settled down and married his sweetheart (his own, not his brother's). Best friends at the end of childhood, the two men struggle to be friends as grown independent men.

There comes a point where both can almost see over the fence into the other's yard (figuratively speaking, of course). One man we see and rather immediately identify with his concepts of 'love and family'. With the other, we recognize his struggle to figure out love beyond good sex. Yet while we watch his struggle, we also accept with bland equanimity the other's existing relations without really questioning what sort of struggle he had to get them. Or even if he had a struggle at all. Can I hold as a mentor or hold as an example someone who never had to struggle with my own nightmares? How far does sympathy take you, without congruent knowledge?

I struggled to imagine what kind of song would have painted this picture for Penn, who both wrote and directed it. Since I had a very clear image of the story from the movie long before I heard to song, I'm not sure if my opinion is unbiased - but I found the song's imagery to be close to the film

It doesn't look high-budget, despite the cast ("high" being a relative term). I wonder if it was one of those "Hey, I'm making a movie, I'd like you to be in it, but can't pay much", where the "yes" answer is out of friendship or at least a professional respect.

4 - Definitely see it on video.


Anonymous said...

I've seen this movie a couple of times and marveled each time at Penn's direction, Morse's understated acting and Mortensen's haunting work here. It was a low budget feature that got a lot of attention at the time because it was Sandy Dennis' last movie before her death.

I thought "American Yakuza" was kind of standard and predictable. Mortensen has alluded to doing it only for the money. "G.I. Jane" I loved and bought. I especially love when Demi Moore beats up Mortensen -- they made it look so real!

Gopher MPH said...

American Yakuza was okay. G.I. Jane was kind of flat, for me. It's not as though I thought she wouldn't make it. Rah Rah feminism for guys. Mortenson was pretty much the only reason I like it. Although, it was a really long time ago that I saw it. Demi Moore just totally does not do it for me. If they'd gotten Geena Davis ... now her I'd see kicking ass & taking names.

I liked this (Indian Runner) in part for the simplicity of the story presented in - I think your choice of words apt - an understated way.