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I attended a screening of "Fierce People" at the 2006 Woodstock Film
Festival. I hesitate to label it a "premiere" of any sort, since it was
shot in the spring of 2004 and had its world premiere at Tribeca in
2005. It played several festivals that year. Release seemed imminent,
then it disappeared. Poof. Vanished. Or so it appeared to the
film-going public. Rumors of a theatrical or DVD release have popped up
now and then, but all proved unfounded. Then this screening was
announced. Perhaps one can call it a "re-premiere?" It certainly felt
as if I was witness to a buried treasure. And what a treasure it was.
I suppose one could characterize "Fierce People" as a coming-of-age drama. But it also has elements of comedy and tragedy, as well as mystery. And a bit of farce thrown in. In short, real life. That makes it hard to pigeonhole, which puts it more into the category of an indie as opposed to a Hollywood movie. But its high production values, big budget feel, and star caliber cast seem at odds with the indie label. So let's call it a hybrid. And, perhaps, that's why it's been "lost." It defies categorization.
Meet Finn Earl (Anton Yelchin), 15, whose father is absent. In fact, Finn has never known him. But he sees him and hears him via the collection of home movies sent from South America. Dad is a renowned anthropologist, and has made a name for himself by setting up shop with the Yanomani, the tribe of "Fierce People" who live to kill and, well, procreate. All their activities are built around those two "tasks," and Finn is captivated by it. Mom Liz (Diane Lane) is also somewhat absent. Although present physically, she is lost in a world of cocaine and alcohol. So Finn becomes an adult in his little solitary world with his reels of film.
One summer, Mom decides to drag Finn along with her into the wilds of New Jersey. A massage therapist, Mom has catered to a wealthy client, Ogden C. Osborne (Donald Sutherland, in a tour de force performance) and he has invited her for an extended house call at his palatial estate. Osborne's "tribe" includes an assortment of eccentric rich kids, servants, and village idiots among whom Finn will find himself part of his own anthropological study. Will his experience with Dad's films help him survive life as a visitor to this tribe? Will he be accepted? Or will he be seen as an outsider, concurrently struggling with his own identity as an adolescent? Such is the stuff of fairy tales, and I suppose this would be if not for the dark underbelly which director Griffin Dunne and writer Dirk Wittenborn have infused into this magnificent story.
With Anton Yelchin's voice-over, intercutting pieces of Dad's home movies, Finn must learn to go back to being the teenager he never really had a chance to be, stop being the parent to his Mom, allow newly-sober Mom to be parent to him, and learn responsibility on the way to adulthood the way it should have taken place all along. Yet he needs to make this transformation in a dangerous, dark world where playing with fire is folly to this fractured family.
This is, first and foremost, a story-driven film and Griffin Dunne emphasized as much in the intro to the film. He bought the rights to Wittenborn's novel even as it was being written, and Wittenborn's own screenplay comes to life in the hands of the masterful Dunne in a way that's a work of wonder.
This is also largely a character-driven film, and Sutherland has never been better. His star turn as Osborne stunned those around me and will likely leave you amazed as well. Diane Lane's character ultimately exhibits so many personalities that it's hard to imagine another actor pulling it off so well. She is breathtaking. But more than anything, "Fierce People" is Anton Yelchin's film. He has a long resume as a child actor but preciously little as a teen. Other than the little-known "House of D" (also a gem), he is best known as Byrd on TV's "Huff." In January, he will be seen in "Alpha Dog" (also sitting on the shelf since 2004, a film I saw at Sundance this year and in which he is the "heart and soul"). His performance here goes far beyond what one would expect from someone so young, and is nothing short of spectacular.
This complex, quirky film has remained out of sight long enough. "Fierce People" is a treasure filled with light and shadow, comedy and tragedy, joy and pathos, but mostly wonder.
I thought this was a very good movie. Someone said it was 'sick' so they couldn't watch it. I think if you realize its rated R then you will be prepared for the nudity and drug use. It is a good story and the acting is amazing. Just can't be a prude to appreciate it! Its basically about a mom who does drugs and wants to get clean so she calls a very wealthy old friend and he moves them to his estate and crazy things happen. I guess it is a drama. I am just so sick of people who don't like movies because of cursing or nudity. That is the world we live in. You obviously aren't comfortable with yourself if you can't see things like this movie. And it's rated R. So, that should tell you from the beginning that its not all peachy happy rainbows. I liked it. I think you will too!
I can't imagine why it hasn't been theatrically released yet. It's got
a great ensemble cast, with Sutherland, Lane, and especially Chris
Evans doing spectacular work. Wake up, studio execs!
The story is based upon the experiences of the author/screenwriter, growing up as the "poor kid" in an extremely affluent community, where class is everything, and makes a difference in every aspect of life, from clothing to justice.
During the film's Q&A, the author was asked about his experiences, and particularly what we don't know about the ultra-rich. He said they aren't stupid, they're very smart (as opposed to how they may portray themselves), they've got plans, and they are a threat!
In many ways, this film is extremely timely.
I was lucky enough to see this at this years Tribeca film festival. I was stunned by how well made and how entertaining this wonderful little film was. Director Griffin Dunne has done a great job assembling this film that has several characters and several story lines that blend so smoothly and seamlessly. The main story involves the family and it is very thought-provoking and entertaining story that involved the viewer in every scene. The film as a whole has credibility and integrity, yet still has that commercial edge - an "indie" movie for the masses if you like. The performances by the cast are all excellent but it is Diane Lane who shines the brightest. Diane Lane is simply sensational in this wonderful film and should be Oscar nominated. Early days I know, but Lane acts her socks off here.
This movie is highly underrated. It isn't mainstream and it isn't
predictable, which makes it unique and interesting.
The acting done in this film is raw and believable. Anton Yelchin, Diane Lane, Chris Evans, and Kristen Stewart all do well portraying their characters.
The film is about turning bad things into good fortune and has an interesting sociological plot. It's quirky and at times a bit unbelievable, but that's why it's great to have good actors. Not all movies can be the same, and this movie makes good use of that.
Enjoy the film for what it is, don't expect too much and you'll get much more than you'd imagine.
Rated 10 Stars due to the lack of lenient criticism.
I really enjoyed Fierce People. I discovered the film by accident,
searching through my On-Demand movie lists trying to find something
interesting to watch. The film has an impressive cast and it quickly
grabs your attention. The film's characters are smart and articulate
and the story doesn't stick to the usual Hollywood rules.
The main protagonist is Finn, a precocious, but underprivileged 15 year old who spends his summer with the Osbourne family. Donald Sutherland plays the patriarch, Ogden C. Osborne, the seventh richest man in America. Diane Lane plays Finn's mother, a friend of Ogden who is also a habitual cocaine user and a slut. The Osbournes own a large estate and seems to live by their own rules. At first they seem charming and sophisticated but the film implies that the super-rich are different. They are used to getting their own way. The film is enjoyable mainly because it has crisp intelligent dialog, superb acting and a story which takes unexpected turns. It is also an R rated movie, so it's not entirely wholesome.
Anton Yelchin is believable and sympathetic in the demanding role of Finn. Sutherland and Diane Lane have never been better. Chris Evans is impressive as Osbourne's duplicitous and devious grandson. Kristen Stewart is good as the pretty grand daughter. High quality movie.
I literally have no idea how to rate this movie. It comes in two
halves, and I quite liked both of them, but the two halves belong to
completely different films. Have you ever been driving down a quiet
country road near your house, taken a left turn and suddenly found
yourself in Helmand Province, Afghanistan? That's what this movie is
like - there's a tonal shift around the halfway mark that's so jarring,
so out of place with what's gone before, that it left me utterly
dumbfounded, staring at the screen, saying over and over 'That didn't
really happen, did it?'
If I've got trouble with it, I can only take pity on the people who had to market this movie. It's a pretty light comedy for the first half - all wacky families, odd-but-cute kid taking his first steps towards manhood, that sort of thing, and it's all very well done. And at the centre of it all is Donald Sutherland, never better in the role of a patriarch who has made scads of money, but lost out in many other ways. It's light and frothy and amusing and - then. Then the event happens, and everything turns VERY dark indeed. The second half plays more like a socially conscious melodrama, with teenage pregnancy, class division and... other issues. It's good too, for what it is, but that seismic shift in the middle of the film makes it all pretty hard to stomach.
So do I recommend this movie or not? Hell, I don't know. Both its parts are very good, but they add up to a baffling whole. I realize that that isn't necessarily very helpful, but you probably ought to be warned that this has been marketed as a comedy, and an enjoyable coming of age movie. That's true, but only up until the halfway mark...
A brilliant and sensitive movie with interwoven plot lines. As a
general warning, the movie turns quite dark about half way through. As
sudden as it is, this is a change that I found fitting to the themes of
the movie, particularly the comparison of the Ishkanani to the filthy
rich, and (as is said by Finn at the end) how each person makes up the
tribe, and how the whole tribe is reflected in each person.
Anton Yelchin (Finn Earl) is spectacular in this movie. He is probably best known as Chekov from Star Trek or Kyle Reese in Terminator Salvation, but he's been in a whole plethora of movies you've probably never heard of (Alpha Dog, which is another brilliant performance on Yelchin's part, House of D, Hearts in Atlantis, to name a few...) The point is that this kid really takes this movie and makes it his own. Other excellent performances from Diane Lane and Donald Sutherland are what takes this movie up a notch, from great to excellent.
"Fierce People" is a quirky coming-of-age tale told through the dark
lens of a learning that the lives of the very rich are really blackest
comedy. Uneven direction and a spotty screenplay (based by the author
on his novel) almost do this movie in. What saves it is a gallery of
first-rate performances by a fine cast. The acting is uniformly
excellent, which keeps the viewer from focusing on what is basically
very familiar territory.
You have to hand it to Diane Lane. Her role as the alcoholic (apparently recovering) mom is poorly written and inconsistently conceived by the director. But she gives it all she's got (which is plenty) and her later scenes with her son (also well portrayed by Anton Yelchin) achieve a depth and emotional impact that is a great credit to both actors. That depth sure isn't in the script.
Donald Sutherland is in great form as the seventh richest man in American who brings New York City masseuse Lane and her teenage son to the wilds of richest New Jersey. As his granddaughter, Kristen Stewart shows why she has zoomed to stardom in the "Twilight" films and to critical acclaim in movies like "Adventureland." Not only does the camera love her, she pays it back in full with a performance here that is remarkable for its subtle depths. (Watch her face when she gets in the black Mercedes in the movie's final scene.) As the grandson, Chris Evans is vivid and effective. (The camera loves him too.) The rest of the cast is great too. But highest praise goes to Elizabeth Perkins as Sutherland's alcoholic daughter (and mother of those aforementioned children). It's a small role, but she really comes across as she comically portrays a lifetime of privilege and desperation.
Despite the fine performances, many scenes fall flat and slide into confusion. Some of this may be due to the poor audio recording (at least on the DVD). Some of this may also be due to the inconsistent emotional focus of the script (which really needed another couple of rewrites, probably NOT by the author of the original novel).
Nice location work, though, wherever that estate was that most of the movie was shot!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
In Fierce People, a sixteen-year-old boy (Anton Yelchin) is forced to
forgo a summer with his dad observing tribes in South America (the
fierce people) for a summer with his drug- and booze-dependent mom
(Diane Lane) in upstate New York when she's hired as the full-time
masseuse to a super-duper-rich man (Donald Sutherland). But the movie
veers sharply from charming comedy to turgid melodrama and never truly
finds its way. In spite of some spirited performances (particularly by
Lane), Griffin Dunne's film doesn't really have an identity, and
without a solid identity, it can be a tough movie to follow and enjoy.
Liz (Lane) and Finn (Yelchin) are a dysfunctional family living in New York. She's a cokehead and drunk who puts out for some of her masseuse clients (but she does have a degree in massage therapy). He's a good kid who sometimes enables her, because she's a great mom during those rare moments when she's not hammered. At any rate, fate intervenes and keeps Finn from seeing his dad, a renowned anthropologist, in the Southern Hemisphere; instead, he and his mom are schlepped to the Hamptons so she can give Ogden Osbourne (Sutherland) his daily rubdowns, and here Finn decides to observe a different kind of tribe, that of the filthy rich. Of course, he can't just observe, and he slowly ingratiates himself into Osbourne's fiefdom, befriending his grandson Bryce (Chris Evans, who looks like a young Stephen Baldwin) and falling in love with his granddaughter (Kristen Stewart, once the tyke from Panic Room). Liz and Finn are given a house and a car, and naturally the rumors fly about Liz's true relationship with Osbourne.
Most of the acting ranges from sweet (Yelchin) to a bit hammy (Sutherland, who even gets to sing), but it's Lane who truly stands out with a bravura, top-notch performance. Her Liz is intensely and simultaneously vulnerable and strong; she lives not for herself but for the love of her son, which has ebbed quite substantially in recent years. Liz has to do battle with her teen son, her own ambitions and self-confidence, and the suspicious eyes of Osbourne's family, particularly his daughter (Elizabeth Perkins), a bit of a lush in her own right. Lane is still exquisitely beautiful, and she carries herself with a fragile grace; she almost seems attainable to a normal person, in other words, not like a Star.
The movie covers some pretty strong subjects, from sexual awakenings, gun violence, major drug use (including acid), and murder, but often it feels like just a melting pot of weirdness, as if the protagonists were merely flitting from tragedy to tragedy; Finn is sort of a combination between Dean Moriarity and Homer Bailey. But unlike the wallflower Bailey, as played by Tobey Maguire, Yelchin's Finn is good and sincere, but he's proactive. He desperately wants his mom to get better, but he also wants things for himself, like a warm female. He's a smartass, but he's not some grinning idiot who's happy to take the kindness of others without offering anything in return.
Oh, and then there's the film's eventual villain, a person you'll spot a mile away, a good thirty minutes before his identity is revealed. The movie will ask, "Who could have done this?" and you'll reply, "That guy, over there. Duh." It's that obvious. At first, I thought that perhaps it was a little too obvious, that the movie would pull a switcheroo at the last minute. You know, a red herring to throw me off the scent. But, nope. Fraid not. It was that person all along. And that kind of annoyed me, because up until then I was sure that the movie was going to be tightly plotted, with some genuine twists tossed in. Sadly, no. And the ending is a little too clean for my tastes; I like my endings jagged, like a used sponge.
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