Review: Fierce People

Fierce People is structured around the type of analogy that makes one pine for total sensory failure.

Fierce People
Photo: Autonomous Films

Griffin Dunne’s Fierce People is structured around the type of analogy that makes one pine for total sensory failure, a desire amplified by the filmmakers’ clear self-satisfaction with what they believe to be a clever narrative conceit. The parallel in question concerns the South American Ishkanani clan and New Jersey’s ultra-wealthy Osborne family, the latter endlessly described by teenage protagonist Finn (Anton Yelchin) as a strange, mysterious tribe that he—as befitting the son of the famed scientist who discovered the Ishkanani—chooses to place under his own amateur anthropological microscope. Why look, there’s “chief” Ogden (Donald Sutherland), a friendly and wise old billionaire who’s graciously invited Finn and his mother Liz (Diane Lane), a masseuse and recovering alcoholic/coke addict, to stay at his obscenely enormous estate for the summer! And over there, it’s Ogden’s energetically welcoming grandson Bryce (Chris Evans) and hot granddaughter Maya (Kristen Stewart), both of whom will quickly become Finn’s friends! And if I’m not mistaken, just around the corner from this excruciatingly contrived premise lies a giant heap of bland satire about the super rich, which comes equipped with regularly scheduled segments in which Finn watches clips from his father’s anthropology documentary that speak directly and conveniently to his present adventures in upper-crustdom! Dunne’s ability to elicit fine performances from Lane and Sutherland, who share a mature, authentic chemistry, initially overshadows the easy-target critique supplied by Dirk Wittenborn’s script (from his own novel). Yet after many soft jabs at its spoiled affluent cretins, Fierce People takes a thoroughly ill-advised wrong turn into male-rape territory. To the film’s mind, sexual assault is a method for establishing dominance that’s inherent to both the Ishkanani and the Osbornes, a notion eventually hammered through the floorboards via the story’s villain wielding all sorts of tribal weapons as he pursues his would-be victim through a jungle-y forest. More astonishing, however, is that such literalness isn’t even the bottom of the barrel; that designation is reserved for the mentally handicapped man who leaves clues to the rear-end-rape mystery around the Osborne property in the form of primitive pseudo-cave drawings.

 Cast: Diane Lane, Anton Yelchin, Donald Sutherland, Kristen Stewart, Elizabeth Perkins, Paz de la Huerta, Chris Evans  Director: Griffin Dunne  Screenwriter: Dirk Wittenborn  Distributor: Autonomous Films  Running Time: 107 min  Rating: R  Year: 2005  Buy: Video

Nick Schager

Nick Schager is the entertainment critic for The Daily Beast. His work has also appeared in Variety, Esquire, The Village Voice, and other publications.

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