This is the first in what will hopefully become a series of posts by yours truly in which I recommend a film from the decade that gave me the love of the medium. This is my no means the golden age of cinema, but it was a pretty damn good one to come of age during. I will try to find titles a lot of people may of missed, but I'll also be encouraging you to take a second look at movies you may have dismissed the first time around. The first film is one I've wanted to blog about since I first started writing for Action and Action and remembered that Rob is a big fan of Springsteen, who's connection to the film will become clear as you read on.
Long before Sean Penn was milking the Academy for a yearly acting nomination, he made his directorial debut with an extremely cool, underrated film called The Indian Runner. The few films he's directed since (The Crossing Guard, The Pledge and Into the Wild) have generally been well received as mature, realized projects, but I still feel this often overlooked first film is his strongest. The year was 1991, and the barely 30 year old actor demonstrated that he was a lot more than just that, and was in fact very well adversed in cinema, its past masters and capacity for artistic expression.
When people think of independent cinema in the 90's, most think of Tarantino, Kevin Smith, and all those that tried to be like either Tarantino or Kevin Smith. The Indian Runner came out before either of them had made a film, and features a cast that I'm sure had Tarantino seeing it at his first opportunity. The film stars David Morse as the 'highway patrolman' Joe Roberts and Viggo Mortenson stealing every scene as his enigmatic, trouble-seeking brother Frank. The supporting cast boasts names like Charles Bronson, Patricia Arquette, Dennis Hopper, Valeria Golino, and even a brief appearance by a young Benicio Del Toro. As if this cast wasn't already enough to give it a 10/10 on the ultra cool scale, Penn got the story idea for his original screenplay from Bruce Springsteen's 'Highway Patrolman.' Refer to song below for plot summery.
Probably because the film takes place prior to the Boss's day, the song is not featured in the film, but the badass classic rock soundtrack compliments several scenes beautifully.
Attesting to Penn's well placed influence and awareness, is the film's dedication in loving memory of John Cassavetes and Hal Ashby. Myself being more familiar with Cassavetes (actor turned father of independent cinema, created very personal projects such as A Woman Under the Influence), I can certainly see moments reflective of the great director. My favourite being a hilarious little scene which relates little to the rest of the plot, all done in one shot where a nosey local tries to console Joe who is clearly annoyed as he washes his police cruiser while she follows him round and round. Sean Penn apparently developed a bit of a relationship with Cassavetes before his passing and had planned to collaborate. Penn later starred in She's So Lovely directed by John's son, Nick Cassavetes.
For the most part a heavy, serious drama, the film will often surprise you with strange little touches of humour, such as the aforementioned car washing scene, and several other moments which seem almost Lynchian to me.
After watching the film, I recommend checking out the trailer on youtube, which I see as a humerous demonstration of advertisers' total inability to market what is essentially an art film. I'm reminded of the classic re-cut 'Shining' trailer, particularly when the trailer's cliched voice states “Franky and Joe have one more chance to make everything right” making it look like a fun filled film of two brothers re-kindling a childhood relationship.
Anyway, I think I've ranted on long enough for now. Just see it, and hopefully you will recognize how elements of the film pay homage to some of cinema's most inspiring auteurs while others make it truly unique and one of the first in what was to become a great decade for independent cinema.
Fun fact: The film has a birthing scene with a 'crowning' shot pre-dating Knocked Up's by 16 years... eat that Apatow! (Judd Apatow has also named Cassavetes as an influence... I guess they both directed movies, I see no further connection).