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The Set-Up follows the story of Bill “Stoker” Thompson, a boxer who is close to retirement age and seemingly one shot away from making it big. The movie opens with a deal being struck, and that is to rig the match between Stoker and the gangster boss’ newcomer in favor of the young blood. Stoker’s manager strikes the deal, leaving Stoker out of the loop in order to the bribery money for himself. Stoker is a sure loss anyway, so there is no need to tell him. After some locker room foreshadowing, doubts, and encouragement, Stoker proceeds to get the upper hand of the newcomer. In the third round he is told about the plan, and he needs to make a choice; win to prove that he still has it, or lose to save himself from the gangsters. He chooses the win and after an attempted escape after the fight, the gang beats him up and breaks his hand for good. This ends his career and gives his wife the life of solitude she has been asking for.

It is important to note some of the changes from the narrative poem to the film. The biggest change was in regards to the character of the protagonist, who was changed from an African-American to a white man. In addition, the gang killed the protagonist in the short story while only injuring Stoker in the movie. These alterations are not small or meaningless differences. In fact, it has the ability to completely change the impact of the story and the meaning of it. For instance, the poem is about racism or racial inequality. The movie is about a simple crime taking advantage of a man down on his luck. The difference between death and injury is also large. Death conveys many different things, including mortality and finality. However, the injury tends to be more typical of a Hollywood ending. This does not mean that these movies are any better or worse than the written works they were based on, but certainly it changes what we think about and how we are thinking about it.

“The Set-Up is absolutely marvellous to behold, for its visual style, the script and the acting. While Audrey Totter, an inimitable noir staple, is not given as much to do as one would hope (her presence is mostly felt in the first few scenes and the final one), Robert Ryan exudes the sad charisma of a man practically down on his luck, weathered but still kicking with everything he has left, boasting his confidence while most don’t believe it and others even want him to lose. He’s happy about his odds yet oblivious of the evil forces working against him, not to mention that crowds that mock him” (

The censorship in The Set-Up is very interesting. The violence in the boxing ring is subject to almost no censorship, with fists flying and bloody eyes all around. Stoker even has a case of cauliflower ear that is clearly visible from the first scene. However when it comes to the brutality of the gang violence towards Stoker in the destruction of his hand, the cameras shy away. This could be due to the noir style of filming, but it could also simply be that audiences are not ready for that kind of brutality on screen. In juxtaposition, modern television shows such as Game of Thrones express much less care for censorship.

In The Indian Runner we focus on a man named Joe Roberts. He is a man who is also seemingly down on his luck, but doing ok. His younger brother Frank is home from Vietnam. It is quickly discovered that, although cleaned up, he is still very much a restless man. His father also confirms as much. Early in the film, the two brothers lose their mother. This sends the father into a depression, causing him to take his own life. Frank, who was in prison at the time of his mother’s passing, learns of the suicide and is seemingly calm with what has happened. As we will see later, these moments hit him harder than he initially let on. We now start to see how truly unstable Frank is and how his decisions impact the small town. Joe, who is trying to be a caring brother, continues to pursue Frank in all of his mistakes, using his power as an officer of the law to help him in times of severe trouble. Eventually, when all seems to be going well, Frank kills a bartender for seemingly no reason other than to break the status quo and ease his restless spirit. Joe pursues him in a squad car to the state line, stopping at the border to let him go, signifying that Joe must let his little brother go both physically and emotionally.

The Indian Runner is a story that is based on “Highway Patrolman” by Bruce Springsteen. Although Springsteen’s song gives quite a large amount of story, it is not quite enough to fill a two hour movie. Penn padded the story with extra details in order to make it a full-length film. However, his version of the story is remarkably true to the song. “Given all that, it means something that Springsteen thought highly enough of Penn’s vision — even as a first-time filmmaker — to grant him permission to use the “Highway Patrolman” characters and story. The song doesn’t have much of a plot. It’s mostly a first-person slice of life, with just a little bit of backstory and a haunting ending. But Penn keeps the pertinent details, including a tidbit about how Joe Roberts once tried being a farmer before the wheat market collapsed. The Indian Runner gets the larger meaning of what Springsteen is singing about: the notion that the bad breaks of the economy and genealogy can saddle a good person with what the Nebraska song “Atlantic City” calls “debts no honest man can pay” (

One more interesting point in contrast to The Set-Up is the lack of censorship. All throughout the movie there is heavy violence, language, drug use, and excessive nudity. This extends all the way to a very visual birthing scene that is shot alongside the final car chase. The seeming lack of care for what the audience might think of these excessive scenes tells the viewer exactly what Penn is trying to achieve. Life is gritty, it is hard, things happen, and sometimes you’re just going to have to bear it. There is no other way through life than to understand that hard things happen and you must continue to look at the things that are worth living for. To end on a quote about Penn’s debut, “However, as his first film behind the camera, “The Indian Runner” is hardly a work of mischievous youngster, a moody meditation on the bond of blood the two men share even if they no longer have the same perspective on the world after one returns from war” (