Picks and Pans Review: The Indian Runner

updated 10/21/1991 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 10/21/1991 AT 01:00 AM EDT

David Morse, Viggo Mortensen

The following cineography—hastily compiled and admittedly unofficial—is nonetheless vital to viewer understanding of actor Sean Penn's debut as a director and screenwriter:

1. The Bible. Cain and Abel.

2. East of Eden (1955). Cain and Abel redux, with James Dean.

3. The Hardy Boys books. The lead characters' names (Joe and Frank).

4. Some Came Running (1959). In Penn's Runner, Patricia Arquette, Rosanna's sister, reprises young Shirley MacLaine's role as the baffled bimbo.

5. The Seventh Seal (1957). Ingmar Bergman's bleak landscapes.

6. Satyricon (1969). Federico Fellini's garish grotesques.

7. Easy Rider (1969). Dennis Hopper established himself by playing a young, scruffy, unlovable outcast. In Runner the mature Hopper plays an old, scruffy, unlovable outcast.

8. Five Easy Pieces (1970). Mortensen's outlaw sensibility (and sensual drawl) essentially derives from this and all other Jack Nicholson films in which Jack doesn't wear a necktie.

9. Badlands (1973). Midnight frisking in auto headlights.

10. Helter Skelter (1976). Gallons of blood.

11. The New Centurions (1972). A pathetic phone call presages suicide.

12. The Deer Hunter (1978). Bewildered working-class Vietnam vets.

13. Twin Peaks (1990). Northern gothic characters blather primitive-wisdom nonsense.

Thus armed, you may be able to grasp the story: Mortensen plays (quite ably, as it happens) a sociopath returned from Vietnam. His brother the sheriff (Morse) chooses, unwisely, to invite him into his home. To Penn's credit, there is one note of originality here: It turns out that Mortensen's disturbed Viet vet was disturbed before he went to Vietnam. (R)

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