Dir.Griffin Dunne. US. 2005. 110mins.
Griffin Dunne's fifth feature is by far his most assured,with credits both above the line and below surpassing those of his previousefforts. Set in New York City and New Jersey during the 1980s, Fierce Peopleis darkly comic drama with a decidedly more downbeat third act its only seriousmisstep.
Well-actedand directed, and adapted by Dirk Wittenborn from his own novel, this issignificantly more than a simple coming-of-age story, and with this cast itshould have no problem attracting audiences both domestically and in non-USlocales. Overseas theatrical buyers and worldwide ancillary providers shouldalso note that Oscar nominee Diane Lane turns in another award-worthyperformance which may well boost the film's DVD, PPV and TV revenues. Filmpremiered at Tribeca Film Festival.
FinnEarl (Anton Yelchin) is a mature 15-year-old living in New York with hisdrug-addicted massage therapist mother Liz (Diane Lane). His absentee father, afamous anthropologist, has invited him to spend the summer in South Americastudying the Ishkanani tribe but, stuck in a preternaturally co-dependent role,Finn instead ends up being busted buying cocaine for his mother.
Ina stroke of luck of the kind that rarely happens in real life, one of Liz'sclients is Ogden C Osbourne (Donald Sutherland), who happens to be not only oneof the richest men in the world but also invites them to stay in a house on hismassive property in New Jersey. As a result, Finn is thrust into the rarifiedand highly disturbed world of the uber wealthy.
Immediatelywelcomed into the clannish world of the Osbournes, Finn is befriended by thepatriarch's grandson Bryce (Chris Evans), hit on by their stunning and sexuallyprecocious 17-year-old maid (Paz De La Huerta) and starts a relationship withOsbourne's granddaughter Maya.
Ofcourse, anyone with a sense of drama or knowledge of the real world of wealthand power knows that there's no way he is going to be fully accepted and thatno one is getting out of this situation unscathed. Eventually, the hiddenrealities of several family members surface and the cruel, almost pathologicalbehaviour that often goes with this world of entitlement comes to light.
Ina shocking act of violence, the film veers sharply into dark psychologicaldrama and it is in this transition where it hits its only real rocky patch. Theshift in tone is abrupt and one gets the idea that something was sacrificed forthe sake of a running time shorter than two hours.
GriffinDunne deftly directs a large ensemble of accomplished veterans and relativenewcomers, with an assured hand and a fine eye for landscape and cityscapealike.
Anengaging and detailed look into the realm of extreme un-reality in which thesuper wealthy dwell, Fierce People uses Finn's father's footage of theIshkanani, complete with his voice-over to vivid effect, mirroring Finn'sexperience.
Withan outsider's eye, Finn then sets about proving that cultural anthropology neednot be practiced only on so-called 'less-developed' societies and anargument can clearly be made that the world in which Finn finds himself issignificantly less 'developed' that that of the Ishkanani.
DianeLane delivers another fine performance while Yelchin, fresh off his nuancedturn as Hank Azaria and Paget Brewster's son in the US cable series Huff, is areal star in the making, deftly portraying an overly intelligent and curiousmind, in combination with the naivety often inherent in an only child withliterally or emotionally absent parents. Kristen Stewart (Panic Room) isnatural and utterly convincing as the only member of the Osbournes that mightactually be normal.
Thescore by Nick Laird-Clowes of the band The Dream Academy is an evocative mix ofNative American influences and a little touch of David Byrne (himselfinfluenced by indigenous music) which carries the anthropological and somewhatmystical feel of the film well.
Oneextremely odd note for anyone with a passing interest in anthropology is thatthe 'Ishkanani' are clearly the Yanomamo tribe and Finn's father isbased on Napoleon Chagnon, the first outsider to visit the 'FiercePeople,' as he called the Yanomamo, in southern Venezuela and northernBrazil in 1968. In Wittenborn's novel (and early press notes and trade reports)the real tribal name is used, but not in the final film. Has the disturbinglycapitalist trend of reserving 'naming rights' made it to the Amazonbasin'
Prod cos: Lions GateFilms, Industry Ent
US dist: Lions Gate Films
Int'l sales: Lions Gate Films
Exec prod: Michael Paseornek, MichaelBurns, Dirk Wittenborn, Keith Addis
Prods: Nick Wechsler
Scr: Dirk Wittenborn
Cine: William Rexer
Ed: Allyson Johnson
Prod des: Mark Rickler
Music: Nick Laird-Clowes
Main cast: Diane Lane, Donald Sutherland,Anton Yelchin, Chris Evans, Kristen Stewart, Paz De La Huerta, ElizabethPerkins, Blu Mankuma