These People, you don't want to know

Fierce People

on September 07, 2007 by Chad Greene
Griffin Dunne and Dirk Wittenborn think they're pretty clever.

See, 15-year-old Finn (Anton Yelchin) wants to spend the summer with his father, a famous anthropologist studying a primitive tribe called the Ishkanani—the titular “fierce people”—in South America, but his cocaine-addicted masseuse mother Liz (Diane Lane) has other plans, namely moving in with an eccentric client named Ogden C. Osbourne (Donald Sutherland) who's so wealthy that he has his own town.

So Finn decides—and this is the part that Dunne and Wittenborn, who adapted the script from his own novel, think is pretty clever—to undertake an amateur anthropological study of the Osbourne tribe instead.

“This is the story of my time among the fierce people,” narrates Yelchin, who has matured into a much better actor since shooting this long-on-the-shelf film, “in deepest, darkest New Jersey.”

But the most shocking ferocity demonstrated in this drama is that with which the filmmakers beat that anthropological analogy to death. Especially problematic is “the chief's” grandson Bryce (Chris Evans), a self-styled “gentleman and a scholar” whose Ivy League education has familiarized him with the findings of Finn's father—a man he considers the “Elvis of anthropology.” It falls to Evans to act out the most tediously heavy-handed parallels Dunne and Wittenborn draw in thick lines here, things like placing a headdress on Finn's head while intoning such on-the-nose pronouncements as “welcome to the tribe, brother.” (Also over the top is the “retard”—a term used repeatedly in the film—who's constantly chalking out primitive petroglyphs on hard surfaces.)

What starts out as a slight social satire veers off into unexpectedly dark territory when Finn becomes the victim of an act of vicious violence—one for which the perpetrator, once unmasked, offers an explicitly anthropological explanation.

“Two thousand years ago, I would have done that in front of the whole village,” the perp proclaims.

All in all, the only People worth knowing here are Lane and Sutherland, who manage to make their characters charismatic despite their Fierce self-interests.
Distributor: After Dark
Cast: Anton Yelchin, Diane Lane, Donald Sutherland, Chris Evans and Kristin Stewart
Director: Griffin Dunne
Screenwriter: Dirk Wittenborn
Producers: Griffin Dunne and Nick Wechsler
Genre: Drama
Rating: R for language, drug use, sexuality/nudity and some violence
Running time: 107 min.
Release date: September 7, 2007 NY, September 14 exp.
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