54 user 23 critic

The Indian Runner (1991)

A Vietnam vet comes home to his small town and finds himself in conflict with rules that his brother has vowed to uphold.



1 win & 1 nomination. See more awards »





Cast overview, first billed only:
Frank Roberts
Mrs. Roberts
Enzo Rossi ...
Harry Crews ...
Mr. Baker
Mrs. Baker
Trevor Endicott ...
Brandon Fleck ...
7-Years-Old Frank Roberts
Kathy Jensen ...
Lady at Carwash
James Devney ...
Deputy #1 (as Jim Devney)


An intensely sad film about two brothers who cannot overcome their opposite perceptions of life. One brother sees and feels bad in everyone and everything, subsequently he is violent, antisocial and unable to appreciate or enjoy the good things which his brother desperately tries to point out to him. Frank understands the atrocities of life as a big picture; Joe does not. Joe is content to enjoy smaller pleasures: children, family, routine. Joe mistakenly believes he can straighten his little brother out and convince him that life is good. Frank is a cursed man. He is cut between his love for his brother and his repulsion at self-indulgent contentment. The result is a painful story of heartbreak, heartache, disappointment, despair, and the tragic side of love. Written by kwedgwood@hotmail.com

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis



Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)

Rated R for violence, language, and some drug use | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:






Release Date:

20 September 1991 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

The Indian Runner  »

Filming Locations:


Box Office


$7,000,000 (estimated)


$191,125 (USA)

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:


Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


Sean Penn's directorial debut. See more »


After the chase scene near the end of the film between Joe in the police car and Frank in the Buick, Joe turns off the red police lights, then the car's headlamps and steps out of the car and stands next to it. In the final scene we see Joe still standing next to the police car but the car's headlamps have mysteriously come on again. See more »


Maria: [to Raffael, holding up a joint she's smoking] Don't ever smoke this stuff in front of the law. You smoke this stuff in front of the law, the law gets upset.
See more »


Featured in At the Movies: 25 Years of Margaret & David (2011) See more »


Written by Carmino Zapata
Performed by Grupos Rio Rojo
Courtesy of Aid to the Arts of Nicaragua
See more »

Frequently Asked Questions

This FAQ is empty. Add the first question.

User Reviews

Harsh, yet Tender
5 July 2000 | by (Louisiana) – See all my reviews

America is a rough place if you're a working-class stiff in the midwest. Films often make that plain enough, but this film makes the emotional and social hardship of the blue-collar everyman especially realistic. Sean Penn directed this film with a light-handedness that would hide the fact that it was his first time as a director...the characters and story pull each other along naturally, with no phony, inserted twists that lead to a quick climax (which many Hollywood films use to "speed it along").

The story is one of two brothers, one a policeman and the other a juvenile delinquent cum war hero cum adult delinquent. The older brother repeatedly tries to salvage the damage the younger brother keeps doing to his own life, while also dealing with a family and the grim conditions in his small town in the early 1970s. The younger brother repeatedly gets in trouble, yet never seems to try the patience of his sweet girlfriend or stoic brother.

The performances are solid (even the performance of the Arquette, which surprises me) and the cinematography and direction are top-notch. There are some lulls and slow spots (and an unnecessary musical montage), but the symbolism and story are fantastic. The hints that the younger brother may have a psychopathic personality are fun to spot. Things to look for: multiplying tattoos, a split-second reference to napalm (in the bar at the end), the message getting through. Be warned: the ending may bum the sensitive out.

0 of 0 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

Contribute to This Page

Create a character page for: