This extraordinary film, a stiletto-edged domestic melodrama that, at different times, evokes the work of Sam Peckinpah, Hal Ashby, John Cassavetes, Rainer Werner Fassbinder and the other, unrelated Penn (Arthur, director of Bonnie and
Clyde), is harrowingly honest in content yet lyrically elegiac in style. [21 Sep 1991]
What actually happens is generally predictable, degenerating into violence as the brothers test each other to the full. But the way the story is expressed is more original, since Penn lingers long enough on his scenes of rural heartland life to get more out of them than would be vouchsafed by your average American family saga. [28 Nov 1991]
A tortured examination of the disintegration of a Mid-western family, The Indian Runner is very much actors' cinema. Rambling, indulgent and joltingly raw at times, Sean Penn's first outing as a director takes a fair amount of patience to get through but has an integrity that intermittently serves it well.
While [Penn] has all the heavyweight America-gone-sour themes and confused characters found in roadside movies like Five Easy Pieces, Electra Glide In Blue or Thieves Like Us, he misses the eccentric and exciting spikiness that made them more than just gloomfests.
Sean Penn's first film as writer-director, steeped in sullen Method acting, pretentious symbolism, and mannered slow motion, is obviously a sincere and considered effort, but I found it insufferably tedious, self-indulgent, and reeking with self-pity.