Polished Performances

Actor: Viggo Mortensen
Character: Frank Roberts
Film: The Indian Runner

After his recent Oscar Nomination for Captain Fantastic, it’s worth shedding some light on the earlier work of the very diverse and intense Viggo Mortensen. Many haven’t seen, or even heard of, The Indian Runner which was one of the first leading roles that Viggo was given. Released in 1991 and directed by Sean Penn, the story is based on the Bruce Springsteen song Highway Patrolman about two brothers in 1960’s Nebraska who live very different lives. David Morse plays Joe, the elder brother who always looks out for his younger sibling Frank (Mortensen). Their relationship becomes complicated, however, as Joe is a policeman while Frank, having just returned from Vietnam, has some personal demons which lead to him being constantly in trouble with the law.


It’s a downbeat and powerful human drama about family struggles and sibling rivalry that benefits from a simmering intensity from Mortensen. Frank is a tortured soul and Mortensen manages to convey his dangerous edge and unpredictability with simple glances and subtle facial expressions. There’s always something going on behind his eyes but the masterclass in Viggo’s performance is the constant guessing as, despite his tough exterior, there’s a softness and vulnerability trying to break out.

It’s a mesmerising and multilayered performance where Mortensen is also afforded the chance to let loose. Frank’s untamed, wild nature and propensity for booze, women and violence often gets the better of him and scuppers any positive plans he makes. Despite his best efforts to integrate into society, he struggles to shed his criminal tendencies. He’s a torn man, desperately seeking peace, and it’s this very struggle that makes him all the more intriguing and heartbreaking.


Mortensen may be a more household name now due to The Lord of the Rings trilogy but it’s his work in the quieter, more independent films that tend to resonate more. The Indian Runner was one of the first films to showcase the fundamental honesty that he can bring to a role and the depth and substance that he brings to Frank, remains some of his finest work to this day.

Oscars? – No Chance. He should have been nominated but it wasn’t until 2008 that Mortensen was recognised with his first Oscar nomination for David Cronenberg’s Eastern Promises. That would have been 17 years after The Indian Runner and 23 years after his feature debut in Peter Weir’s Witness. Mortensen is, without doubt, one of the most under appreciated of American actors and the lack of recognition for his work as Frank Roberts is proof of that.

(To see more Polished Performances just click here)

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13 Responses to “Polished Performances”

  1. Was Charles Bronson in this as a Dad?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Wow! What a hunk. What a creep he was in this film. He sure knows how to smoke a cigarette. Like his life depended on it. Great use of a prop. I remember Viggo in ‘The Witness’ and I loved him in ‘Eastern Promises’ but completely forgot all about him until his role in LOTR. How did he get that prestigious part after being nearly invisible for almost 2 decades? Was he friends with Jackson who cut him a break? Viggo is fantastic in everything he does. Great tribute, Mark.

    Liked by 1 person

    • He certainly does know how to smoke cool, doesn’t he?
      I’ve always been a fan of Viggo every since I saw him in The Indian Runner. He was still working steadily for years, although he wasn’t ever fully recognised. (Loved his cameo in Carlito’s Way too) but when LOTR arrived, it was the big break that he deserved for years. To be honest, I don’t even think he wanted that break. He’s a guy that focuses on the craft rather than the fame. He’s one of my favourite actors. Never a bad performance.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. LOTR was my main introduction to him. But looking back at his earlier work shows how he has always been a talented actor of the highest order.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Ah, nice pick mate. Not the first Vigo movie that comes to mind but one that you deserve plaudits for spotlighting.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Cheers Mate! I’m a huge fan of Viggo. Have been ever since I seen this film all those years ago. Many have still to see it and I hope they do check it out. Any fan of Viggo should go back and give it a look. Still one of his best performances.

      Liked by 1 person

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