Monday, March 19, 2018

Only now does it occur to me... THE INDIAN RUNNER

Only now does it occur to me... that the probability of the THE INDIAN RUNNER existing is so unlikely that I'm not, in fact, sure that it does exist.

Picture, if you will, a movie directed by Hollywood activist Sean Penn, based on a song ("Highway Patrolman") by blue-collar hero Bruce Springsteen, and produced by infamous former White House Chief Strategist and crypto-fascist Steve Bannon. A motley crew, indeed! (Though I kinda doubt Springsteen ever sat down in a room with the other two, perhaps exhausted enough by Penn's middle-of-the-night phone calls.)

So, THE INDIAN RUNNER stars David Morse as a highway patrolman (okay, that is incredibly likely, I'll give you that)

and young Viggo Mortensen as his wild, lawbreaking brother.

I would posit, as many have, that they represent the dueling aspects of Sean Penn's interior struggle/personal contradictions, with David Morse as the Sean Penn who does volunteer work and saves people from hurricanes, and Viggo as the Sean Penn who (allegedly!) tortured Madonna and dangled paparazzi over balconies.

But now for something truly unlikely: Charles Bronson plays their father, in his only theatrical role post-1984 that didn't involve Cannon Films' Menahem Golan.

And wait––what's this?––it's almost like there's something missing... something that belongs between his nose and upper lip...

Indeed, Bronson is missing his signature mustache. Back when Don Siegel tried to get him to shave it for 1977's TELEFON, Bronson's sole reply on the subject was "No mustache, no Bronson." Apparently it was somehow a different matter when Sean Penn called (!?). Perhaps old age had softened his stance, though he certainly grew it back quickly enough for YES, VIRGINIA THERE IS A SANTA CLAUS and THE SEA WOLF. It's also worth noting that this is a role of considerable pathos: a sweet old man from Nebraska who is not and has never been a pocket bazooka-wielding vigilante. (This is also one of the rare post-DEATH WISH roles in which he does not handle a firearm onscreen.)

Furthermore, legendary Oscar-winning character actress Sandy Dennis (WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF?, THE THREE SISTERS, GOD TOLD ME TO, 976-EVIL) plays Bronson's wife. Frankly, it's bizarre to see the man who so beautifully uttered "Chicken's good... I like chicken" playing scene partner to one of the masters of the American stage.

Bronson: not a master of the American stage, but only because they never made KINJITE: FORBIDDEN SUBJECTS––THE MUSICAL!

Also, I must note that this image of Bronson praying before a pile of Wonder Bread and a gravy boat while sandwiched between a cornfed David Morse and a Gerber Baby might just be the whitest tableau ever committed to film:

I'm beginning to comprehend Steve Bannon's interest in the project. Also of note: Viggo's character has Nazi tattoos and hangs a confederate flag in his bedroom...

Next, we have Patricia Arquette as Viggo's pregnant girlfriend, and apparently she is meant to be the doppelgänger of Mia Farrow in ROSEMARY'S BABY.

"Nothing but a mild sedative to calm you down, Rosemary..."

Finally, we have Dennis Hopper as a terrifyingly intense bartender

Okay, so this is extremely likely, too

who leans in real close and whispers things like, "Did you ever wanna kill someone... just out of rage?"

Wow. I mean, look at that. I can't help but feel this must be the (slightly?) fictionalized version of an actual conversation that went down between Sean Penn and Steve Bannon. 

[In any event, you're probably wondering: is it any good? It is––but with a few caveats. It's very much an early '90s attempt to capture the spirit of '70s indie dramas by guys like Bob Rafelson, John Cassavetes, Peter Bogdanovich, and Hal Ashby. It's amped up by post-BLUE VELVET, expressionistic/Lynchian touches, some of which are visually interesting, and some of which are a little too pretentious for their own good. The first half of the movie outweighs the second (for reasons I can't get into without spoiling it), and it's really at its best when Bronson, Dennis, or Hopper are on screen, though Morse and Viggo are certainly in top form as well.]


gweeps said...

Man, these observations made me nostalgic for some Bronson magic. Maybe I'll dig out a late 60's/early 70's chestnut today. It's been a long time.

I didn't mind The Indian Runner. A pretty good directorial debut for Penn. A decent story exceptionally well cast.

I wonder if Penn really did convince Charlie to shave his mustache or if there was a shaving accident some morning?

Sean Gill said...


Nice, glad you enjoyed! And I can see the headlines now: "Tragic Shaving Accident Leaves Bronson Mustacheless; DEATH WISH 5 Delayed"

Roderick Heath said...

Woah...I'd never have imagined Bannon was involved on this thing. Great glance back at a film I recall more for Penn's visual flavour and the jots of brilliance (particularly in the aforementioned use of Bronson and Hopper) than for its somewhat overworked gestures (I kinda blanked out after the child version of Mortensen got out of the car).

Sean Gill said...


Good to see you, and indeed! It certainly has its highs and lows, and I daresay there are a number of reasons to blank out throughout, though Penn (purposefully?) front-loads the film with Bronson and back-loads it with Hopper to keep us locked down.