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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » The Indian Runner (Blu-ray)
The Indian Runner (Blu-ray)
Kino // R // October 24, 2017 // Region A
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Ian Jane | posted October 25, 2017 | E-mail the Author
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Highly Recommended
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The Movie

Sean Penn's directorial debut, based on a script he wrote inspired by Bruce Springsteen's song Highway Patrolman stars David Morse as Roberts, the deputy sheriff in a small Midwestern town. He lives with his wife Maria (Valeria Golina) and their kids. Things are, for the most part, just fine for the couple. All of this changes when Joe's younger brother Frank (Viggo Mortensen), a Vietnam veteran, shows up on their doorstep one day, completely unannounced. He's recently run into some trouble with the law and tells Joe that he's putting his seedy past behind him. He's come home to stay, he's going straight, and he doesn't want any more trouble.

Joe knows his brother well and, given that they're kin, he cares for him enough to take what Frank says at face value. Maria isn't particularly pleased with this, she doesn't trust him, but the situation is what it is. Joe seems more than committed to helping Frank get back on the straight and narrow. And Frank, to be fair, seems ready to do his part too, especially once he finds out that his girlfriend Dorothy (Patricia Arquette) is pregnant. Of course, it isn't too long before trouble arrives. Frank's got a temper. He's very impulsive and he lacks the self-control he really needs to settle down. When things get violent, their relationship starts to unravel.

Penn was lucky to get such a talented cast involved in his first feature, there's not a weak link here at all. Morse is excellent as the more relaxed, content of the two brothers. He's a family man, that's his lot in life and he's fine with it. He's a good cop that takes his job seriously and Morse's subdued style suits the part nicely. This contrasts perfectly with Mortensen's turn as Frank, the more volatile of the pair. We know he's seen stuff, that he was in the service, but the movie never makes the cast that this is the reason for his problems. More accurately, Frank seems unable to be happy, to appreciate what Joe takes such simple but fulfilling pleasure in. He's dangerous and unstable and that temper of his, well, it's only a matter of time until it gets him into trouble. This is the type of role that Mortensen excels at. Frank is no fool, he's bright and perceptive and that comes through in the acting. The fact that Frank is more than a bit of a bastard and yet the audience still feels for him? That's testament to the quality of Mortenen's work here. The two leads are excellent in this film.

At the same time, there's great supporting work in the film as well. Valeria Golina as Maria is impressive. Her character is strong but conflicted. We completely understand her situation here, and as such, her trepidation. Patricia Arquette is also very good as Frank's put upon girlfriend. She cares for him but it's clear that there are issues. Additionally we get Charles Bronson and Sandy Dennis wonderfully cast as the Roberts' parents, and a supporting turn from Dennis Hopper as Caesar, a bartender, that also stands out.

The production values are solid. The cinematography does a nice job of capturing small town life, the rural scenery creating a sense of emptiness that complements the story quite nicely in spots. The soundtrack, featuring selections from a lot of sixties groups like Jefferson Airplane and Creedence Clearwater Revival to name only two, also suits the tone of the story. The picture is well edited and quite polished, though there are times where the pacing could probably be improved. We all know where the story is headed early on, so some of the suspense that could have been in there just isn't, but when the acting and directing is as impressive as it is across the board in this film, you really don't mind so much.


The Indian Runner takes up roughly 30GBs of space on its 50GB disc, framed at 1.85.1 and presented in AVC encoded 1080p high definition. This is, by and large, an impressive picture. There's lots of fine detail to take in throughout the picture and good depth here as well. The film's subdued color palette is reproduced quite nicely and black levels are deep and solid without crushing anything. The image looks like film, and as such there's a bit of grain in every frame, but that's the way it should be. This is never distracting and there's very little in the way of actual print damage to complain about, maybe a few white specks here and there. Otherwise, the picture is clean. There isn't any evidence of noise reduction or edge enhancement and the solid bit rate keeps the image free of noticeable compression artifacts.


English language audio options are provided in DTS-HD 5.1 and 2.0 Stereo Master Audio. There are no subtitle options provided. Both tracks sounds quite good. This isn't a particularly sound effects heavy movie, so where the 5.1 track really shines is in how it uses and places the music used throughout the picture (it's heavy with classic rock tracks to give it a period feel). Rear channels are used well here, and there's good bass to the mix as well. Dialogue remains clean and clear, more or less resigned to the front of the movie in keeping with the stereo track. Hiss and distortion are never a problem. No complaints here.


The main extra on the disc is Spirit Animal, a twenty-six minute long making of featurette made up of new interviews of director Sean Penn and cast members Viggo Mortensen and David Morse. This is interesting stuff and a valuable addition to the disc. Penn talks about the inspiration that led to his writing the picture, what it was like directing his first feature, and what the cast and crew brought to the film. The two actors discuss their characters, their experiences working on the picture and their thoughts on Penn as a filmmaker.

Aside from that we get a trailer for the feature, trailers for a few other Kino properties, menus and chapter selection.

Final Thoughts:

The Indian Runner is a damn good movie. Penn's direction is assured and skillful, the film is deliberately but effectively paced and rich with excellent performances. Not surprisingly given the pedigree of actors Penn worked with on the film, the cast really shines. Kino's Blu-ray debut for the picture is of very good quality. The featurette on the making of the film is very interesting and the presentation quite strong. Highly recommended.

Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.

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