Sean Penn’s debut as writer and director is a sensitive, meditative drama anchored by strong performances from David Morse and Viggo Mortensen as a pair of brothers. The interplay between them has such an authentic feel to it. Penn’s direction is dynamic, bringing a sense of heightened tension and drama to the somewhat depressing material. I believe this is the only film I’ve seen that’s based on a song: Bruce Springsteen’s Highway Patrolman, which I’ve now listened to and found quite beautiful and moving (particularly after watching the movie). Incidentally, the musical choices in the movie are excellent. A couple of odd aspects: Valeria Golino, who I always thought of as French (probably because of Hot Shots and Hot Shots: Part Deux) but who is actually Italian (and part Greek), plays a Mexican for some reason; and the kid who plays Morse and Golino’s little son is super cute but doesn’t seem to age despite the movie taking place over at least nine months. Look for a young Benicio Del Toro in a very minor role. Overall, I highly recommend this movie. It raises some interesting questions about goodness, commitment, obligation and the bonds of brotherhood, and leaves you pondering whether you’re a hero or an outlaw; strong or weak; and most importantly, a bear or a message.