The Indian Runner (1991)

R | 127 mins | Drama | 20 September 1991

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HISTORY

The film opens with the following voice-over narration from David Morse’s character, “Joe Roberts”: “The Indian knew the deer moved in circles, that if the hunter calculated his moves with skill, he could run the swift deer into submission. Its hooves would bleed, and the animal stumbled. The Indian was to kneel above his dying prey, putting his mouth to that of the deer, stealing its last breath. While he had earned the swiftness of the beast, in its death he was struck by its peace and stillness, and by his own.”
       A title card with the following quote appears at the end of the film: “’Every new child born brings the message that God is not yet discouraged of man.’ – Tagore.” End credits include the statements: “In loving memory of Hal Ashby, Frank Bianco & John Cassavetes”; “’Rio Grande’ courtesy of Republic Pictures Corporation, ‘Gilligan’s Island’ provided by Turner Entertainment Co., 1968 Democratic Convention/Demonstration News Footage, Sherman Grinberg Film Libraries, Inc.”; “Special Thanks: Marubeni Corporation; Daiwa Finance Co. Ltd.; Toppan Printing Co., Ltd.; Yamaman Frontier Inc.; JAL Cultural Development Co., Ltd.; Citizens of Omaha & Plattsmouth, Nebraska; The Nebraska Film Commission – Janet Traub; Mayor of Omaha – Kathy Shepherd; Department of Labor – Ray Griffith; Omaha Police Department; Cass County Sheriff’s Department; Sharon Hughes & James Earl Simmett, Jr.; Clarkson Memorial Hospital; Skip O’Keefe; John Moore Helicopters; Jensen Construction Co.; Red Devil Studios – Jill Jordan; Kenn Rabin; Disc Payroll Services; Beth Semans; David Pauker; Melvin Sattler.”
       According to production notes in AMPAS library files, actor turned writer-director Sean Penn began writing The Indian Runner while acting in a film in Vancouver, British ... More Less

The film opens with the following voice-over narration from David Morse’s character, “Joe Roberts”: “The Indian knew the deer moved in circles, that if the hunter calculated his moves with skill, he could run the swift deer into submission. Its hooves would bleed, and the animal stumbled. The Indian was to kneel above his dying prey, putting his mouth to that of the deer, stealing its last breath. While he had earned the swiftness of the beast, in its death he was struck by its peace and stillness, and by his own.”
       A title card with the following quote appears at the end of the film: “’Every new child born brings the message that God is not yet discouraged of man.’ – Tagore.” End credits include the statements: “In loving memory of Hal Ashby, Frank Bianco & John Cassavetes”; “’Rio Grande’ courtesy of Republic Pictures Corporation, ‘Gilligan’s Island’ provided by Turner Entertainment Co., 1968 Democratic Convention/Demonstration News Footage, Sherman Grinberg Film Libraries, Inc.”; “Special Thanks: Marubeni Corporation; Daiwa Finance Co. Ltd.; Toppan Printing Co., Ltd.; Yamaman Frontier Inc.; JAL Cultural Development Co., Ltd.; Citizens of Omaha & Plattsmouth, Nebraska; The Nebraska Film Commission – Janet Traub; Mayor of Omaha – Kathy Shepherd; Department of Labor – Ray Griffith; Omaha Police Department; Cass County Sheriff’s Department; Sharon Hughes & James Earl Simmett, Jr.; Clarkson Memorial Hospital; Skip O’Keefe; John Moore Helicopters; Jensen Construction Co.; Red Devil Studios – Jill Jordan; Kenn Rabin; Disc Payroll Services; Beth Semans; David Pauker; Melvin Sattler.”
       According to production notes in AMPAS library files, actor turned writer-director Sean Penn began writing The Indian Runner while acting in a film in Vancouver, British Columbia. The story was inspired by Bruce Springsteen’s song, “Highway Patrolman,” about policeman “Joe Roberts" and his wayward brother “Franky.” Penn called Springsteen to ask permission to base a film on the song, and Springsteen agreed.
       A 12 Mar 1991 WSJ article announced The Indian Runner would be the first project financed under a deal between executive producer Thom Mount and several Japanese investors, including NHK Enterprises, some unnamed Japanese banks, and Japanese “’heavy industry’ companies.” According to a 6 May 1990 LAT brief, the budget was expected to be under $10 million, and filming was set to begin in summer 1990 in Nebraska. A 17 Sep 1990 Var news item named Universal Pictures as domestic distributor. However, the 29 Jul 1991 Var announced Universal had dropped out of the project and was replaced by MGM/Pathé, with plans for a fall 1991 release.
       A 17 Sep 1990 Var item listed actress Cathy Moriarty as part of the cast, however Moriarty does not appear in the final film.
       Principal photography began 27 Aug 1990, as noted in an 18 Sep 1990 HR production chart. According to a 9 Sep 1990 LAT item, locations included Plattsmouth neighborhood of Omaha, NB, and Council Bluffs, IA.
       A 6 May 1991 Var brief announced the film would debut on 17 May 1991 at the Cannes Film Festival, as part of the Director’s Fortnight screenings. The film went on to receive mixed reviews and was a commercial failure.
       As reported in a 1 Jul 1991 People news brief, Sean Penn contested his “Written and Directed by” credit, as mandated by the Director’s Guild of America (DGA), preferring a title card reading, “Writer/Director.” The issue went into arbitration, and the DGA won, prompting Penn to resign from the DGA in protest.
       The Indian Runner marked Penn’s motion picture writing and directing debut. As noted in a 28 Apr 1990 Screen International brief, Penn had previously planned to make his directorial debut with She’s So Lovely (1997, see entry); however, he postponed the project to make The Indian Runner, and ultimately only acted in She’s So Lovely, which was directed by Nick Cassavetes. Although Penn was quoted in several contemporary sources, including the 17 Jun 1991 People, as saying he did not plan to act again after The Indian Runner, he continued to appear onscreen as early as 1993 in Carlito’s Way (see entry).
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SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
20 May 1991
p. 14.
Daily Variety
23 Jul 1991
p. 2, 24.
Hollywood Reporter
18 Sep 1990.
---
Hollywood Reporter
20 May 1991
p. 6, 20.
Los Angeles Times
6 May 1990
Calendar, p. 21.
Los Angeles Times
9 Sep 1990
Calendar, p. 21.
Los Angeles Times
20 Sep 1991
Calendar, p. 6.
New York
7 Oct 1991.
---
New York Times
20 Sep 1991
Section C, p. 6.
People
17 Jun 1991.
---
People
1 Jul 1991.
---
Screen International
28 Apr 1990.
---
Variety
17 Sep 1990.
---
Variety
6 May 1991.
---
Variety
27 May 1991
pp. 79-80.
Variety
29 Jul 1991.
---
WSJ
12 Mar 1991
Section B, p. 9.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXTS
The Mount Film Group
In Association with Mico/NHK Enterprises Presents
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Dir
1st asst dir
Key 2d asst dir
2d 2d asst dir
Key 2d asst dir, Winter unit - addl crew
PRODUCERS
Line prod
Exec prod
Exec prod
Exec prod
Best boy, Winter unit - addl crew
WRITER
Wrt
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
1st asst cam
1st asst cam
1st asst cam
2d asst cam
2d asst cam
Loader
2d unit cam op
1st asst cam
2d asst cam
Still photog
Video playback op
Video playback op
Best boy elec
Rigging gaffer
Elec
Key grip
Best boy grip
Dolly grip
Machine op
Chapman Crane op
Chapman Crane op
Crane op/Insert car
Shotmaker/Insert car
Cam, Winter unit - addl crew
1st cam asst, Winter unit - addl crew
2d cam asst, Winter unit - addl crew
2d cam asst, Winter unit - addl crew
Best boy, Winter unit - adel crew
Elec, Winter unit - addl crew
Grip, Winter unit - addl crew
Grip, Winter unit - addl crew
Aerial cam, Winter unit - addl crew
Aerial cam asst, Winter unit - addl crew
Shotmaker driver, Winter unit - addl crew
Cam, Deer unit - addl crew
Gaffer, Deer unit - addl crew
Key grip, Deer unit - addl crew
Grip, Deer unit - addl crew
Best boy, Deer unit - addl crew
Elec/Grip, Deer unit - addl crew
1st cam asst, Deer unit - addl crew
Musco light tech, Deer unit - addl crew
ART DIRECTORS
Prod des
Art dir
Asst art dir
Sketch artist, Winter unit - addl crew
FILM EDITORS
Film ed
Asst ed
Apprentice ed
Negative cutter
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Leadman
Set dresser
Swing gang
Swing gang
Swing gang
Property master
Asst prop master
Const coord
Const foreman
Prop maker
Prop maker
Painter
Stand-by painter
COSTUMES
Cost des
Cost supv
Set costumer
Asst costumer
MUSIC
Mus supv
Featured soloist
Bass guitar
Mus co-prod
Contractor/Mus coord
SOUND
Sd mixer
Cableperson
Supv sd ed
ADR/Foley ed
Asst sd ed
Foley walker
Foley walker
ADR group coord
ADR mixer
Re-rec mixer
Re-rec mixer
Machine op
Machine op
Dolby consultant
ADR and re-rec facilities
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff
Spec eff asst
Title des
Opticals & Titles
Opticals & Titles
MAKEUP
Make-up artist supv
Asst make-up artist
Spec make-up artist
Addl make-up artist
Hairstylist
Asst hairstylist
Asst hairstylist
Make-up supv, Winter unit - addl crew
Hairstylist, Winter unit - addl crew
PRODUCTION MISC
Helicopter pilot
Exec for Capitol Records
Loc mgr
Addl loc mgr
Addl loc mgr
Local loc asst
Local loc asst
Asst prod coord
Asst to Mr. Mount
Asst to Mr. Mount
Exec for Cherry Lane Film Publishing
Casting
Local and extra casting
Extra casting coord
Prod accountant
Asst accountant
Sr financial consultant
Prod notes
Key prod asst - set
Prod asst - set
Prod asst - office
Prod asst - office
First aid
First aid
First aid
First aid
Craft services
L.A. office corrd
Post-prod coord
Transportation consultant
Transportation coord
Transportation capt
Transportation co-capt
Transportation dispatcher
Driver
Driver
Driver
Driver
Driver
Driver
Driver
Driver
Driver
Driver
Security - set
Security - set
Security - set
Security - set
Security - set
Security - set
Security - set
Prod coord, Winter unit - addl crew
Asst prod coord, Winter unit - addl crew
Driver, Winter unit - addl crew
Driver, Winter unit - addl crew
Driver, Winter unit - addl crew
Driver, Winter unit - addl crew
Driver, Winter unit - addl crew
Driver, Winter unit - addl crew
Loc, Deer unit - addl crew
Deer unit supv, Deer unit - addl crew
USDA forest ranger, Deer unit - addl crew
USDA forest ranger, Deer unit - addl crew
Prod financing
Prod financing, The Daiwa Bank
Completion bond
Legal services
Spec pub
International public relations
Catering
Post prod accounting
This film recorded in a THX Sound System Theatre
STAND INS
Stunt coord
Stand-in
Stand-in
Stand-in
Stunt double, Winter unit - addl crew
Stunt double, Winter unit - addl crew
COLOR PERSONNEL
Col timer
SOURCES
LITERARY
Inspired by the song Highway Patrolman by Bruce Springsteen.
SONGS
“Feelin’ Alright,” performed by Traffic, written by Dave Mason courtesy of Island Records, Ltd
“Comin’ Back To Me,” performed by Jefferson Airplane, written by Marty Balin, courtesy of the RCA Records Labels of BMI Music
“Fresh Air,” performed by Quicksilver Messenger Services, written by Jesse Otis Farrows courtesy of Capitol Records, by arrangement with CEMA Special Markets
+
SONGS
“Feelin’ Alright,” performed by Traffic, written by Dave Mason courtesy of Island Records, Ltd
“Comin’ Back To Me,” performed by Jefferson Airplane, written by Marty Balin, courtesy of the RCA Records Labels of BMI Music
“Fresh Air,” performed by Quicksilver Messenger Services, written by Jesse Otis Farrows courtesy of Capitol Records, by arrangement with CEMA Special Markets
“Couch,” performed by Eric & Brett Haller & Craig Levitz, written by Eric Haller
“Red Texas Sunset,” performed by Paulette Tyler, written by Bud McGuire, courtesy of All Nation Productions, Inc.
“Caballito Chontaleno,” performed by Grupo “Rio Rojo," written by Carmino Zapata, courtesy of Aid to the Arts of Nicaragua
“Green River,” performed by Credence Clearwater Revival, written by John C. Fogerty, courtesy of Fantasy, Inc.
“Brothers For Good,” performed by Eric and Brett Haller, written by Eric Haller
“Summertime,” performed by Janis Joplin and Big Brother and the Holding Company, written by George Gershwin and Du Bose Hayward, courtesy of Columbia Records, by arrangement with Sony Music Licensing
“I Shall Be Released,” performed by The Band, written by Bob Dylan, courtesy of Capitol Records, Inc., by arrangement with CEMA Special Markets.
+
DETAILS
Release Date:
20 September 1991
Premiere Information:
Los Angeles and New York openings: 20 September 1991
Production Date:
began 27 August 1990
Physical Properties:
Sound
Spectral Recording Dolby Stereo SR™ in selected theatres
Color
Lenses
Film with Panavision® Cameras & Lenses
Duration(in mins):
127
MPAA Rating:
R
Country:
United States
Language:
English
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

Police officer Joe Roberts pursues a criminal in a high-speed car chase. When the young man stops his car and draws a gun, Joe shoots him in self-defense. Although he rationalizes that he did the right thing, Joe is guilt-ridden when the man’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. Banks, accost him for killing their son. Joe returns home to his loving wife, Maria, and infant son, Raffael. They discuss the imminent return of Joe’s rebellious brother, Frank, who is due home that week from the Vietnam War. In the time that Frank has been gone, Joe has lost the family farm and become a police officer. That night, while Joe sleeps, Maria hears an intruder and creeps downstairs with a gun. She holds the man at gunpoint, then laughs, recognizing him as Joe’s brother, Frank. The next day, Joe and Frank drive around town. Frank admits it feels strange to ride in a police car without having been arrested. They arrive at the train tracks, where Frank reveals his plans to skip town without visiting their parents, whom he suspects will be relieved not to see him. He confesses to stealing forty dollars from Joe’s wallet, then hops the train. Joe realizes his once familiar brother is now a stranger. He goes to their parents’ home and, as Frank predicted, Mr. and Mrs. Roberts are not surprised that he has already disappeared. Mr. Roberts comments that Frank has always been “restless.” Six months later, Mrs. Roberts dies. After the funeral, Mr. Roberts tells Joe that he recently received a card from a woman named Dorothy, explaining Frank is in jail for hitting her, but is set to be released in ... +


Police officer Joe Roberts pursues a criminal in a high-speed car chase. When the young man stops his car and draws a gun, Joe shoots him in self-defense. Although he rationalizes that he did the right thing, Joe is guilt-ridden when the man’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. Banks, accost him for killing their son. Joe returns home to his loving wife, Maria, and infant son, Raffael. They discuss the imminent return of Joe’s rebellious brother, Frank, who is due home that week from the Vietnam War. In the time that Frank has been gone, Joe has lost the family farm and become a police officer. That night, while Joe sleeps, Maria hears an intruder and creeps downstairs with a gun. She holds the man at gunpoint, then laughs, recognizing him as Joe’s brother, Frank. The next day, Joe and Frank drive around town. Frank admits it feels strange to ride in a police car without having been arrested. They arrive at the train tracks, where Frank reveals his plans to skip town without visiting their parents, whom he suspects will be relieved not to see him. He confesses to stealing forty dollars from Joe’s wallet, then hops the train. Joe realizes his once familiar brother is now a stranger. He goes to their parents’ home and, as Frank predicted, Mr. and Mrs. Roberts are not surprised that he has already disappeared. Mr. Roberts comments that Frank has always been “restless.” Six months later, Mrs. Roberts dies. After the funeral, Mr. Roberts tells Joe that he recently received a card from a woman named Dorothy, explaining Frank is in jail for hitting her, but is set to be released in less than a month. Joe tells Maria he wants to offer his brother a place to stay. Maria agrees, although she does not like the idea of Frank living around their son. Joe takes up smoking again on his way to Columbus, Ohio, to pick up Frank from jail. There, he watches from afar as Frank is released and reunited with his childlike girl friend, Dorothy. Joe chooses not to interrupt their tender reunion, and instead, follows them to a rundown motel. Later that evening, Joe surprises Frank in his room and informs him their mother has died. The news elicits no emotion from Frank, who declines Joe’s invitation to come stay at his house. Returning home, Joe teases Maria when he catches her smoking marijuana. Mr. Roberts comes to the house for dinner, and informs Joe and Maria of his plans to sell his house and move into a trailer park. Back in Columbus, Frank steals a convertible, robs a gas station, and sets the stolen car on fire. In the middle of the night, after watching home movies of his young sons, Mr. Roberts calls Joe about a detached strip of molding he noticed at Joe’s house. The next morning, Joe is visited by fellow police officer Randall, who delivers the news that Mr. Roberts shot himself. Joe goes to his parents’ home and examines the bloody site of his father’s suicide. He tries to call Frank, to no avail. Maria finally gets in touch with Dorothy and asks her to pass along the news of Mr. Roberts’s death. Soon, Dorothy and Frank arrive in town. Frank goes on a drunken bender, and Dorothy takes refuge at Joe’s house, where Maria offers her marijuana to calm down. Joe finds Frank at their parents’ house, drunk, naked, and wielding a gun. He brings Frank home with him, and allows him to pass out on the couch. Later, Frank wakes up and proudly announces that Dorothy is pregnant. In time, Frank and Dorothy settle into Mr. and Mrs. Roberts’ unoccupied house, and Frank gets a construction job. Yearning to reignite his passion for farming, Joe starts a garden in his backyard. One night, after Frank and Dorothy are married, Frank picks a fight with his pregnant wife and spits peas in her face. Later, he is detained by police after starting a bar fight. Joe arrives, and listens as Frank rationalizes his violent tendencies. Instead of arresting his brother, Joe brings him back home and tells Dorothy he will keep Frank’s car keys until the next day. In the morning, Joe relates the events to Maria and cries. She insists his brother is no longer a child and must help himself. Soon, Joe and Maria get a call that Dorothy is in labor. They go to her and Frank’s house, but Frank is not there. Joe goes in search of his brother and finds him at a bar. They argue over Frank’s obligation to be with Dorothy. Joe accuses Frank of blaming the world for his problems. In turn, Frank describes the world as a hell populated by two kinds of men: heroes and outlaws. Joe responds that men are either strong or weak, and Frank is being weak. He tries to persuade his brother that children and family are worth living for, but Frank disagrees. Joe declares his love for Frank then uses a shard of broken glass to slice his hand, pointing to the blood and stating that family is all there is. Joe storms out. Frank starts to leave, too, but notices Caesar, the bartender, cleaning up Joe’s blood. Flying into an inexplicable rage, Frank attacks Caesar with a chair, beating the man relentlessly until his face is covered in Caesar’s blood. Bar patrons stare in horror, and Frank is startled when he notices his bloody reflection in a mirror. Joe receives a phone call about the incident minutes before Frank returns home. However, when Frank sees Joe on his stoop, he speeds away. Joe pursues in his police car, but when Frank finally stops, Joe hallucinates Frank as a young boy dressed in a cowboy costume. As Dorothy’s baby is born, Joe allows Frank to drive away, never to be heard from again. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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