Fierce People (2005)

Fierce People
Director: Griffin Dunne
Writer: Dirk Wittenborn
Based on: Wittenborn’s novel of the same name
Cast: Diane Lane, Anton Yelchin, Donald Sutherland, Chris Evans, Kristen Stewart, Paz de la Huerta, Blu Mankuma, Elizabeth Perkins
Seen on: 3.12.2017

Finn (Anton Yelchin) lives with his mother Liz (Diane Lane), a masseuse with a drug problem and dreams of going to South America to meet his father for the first time – an anthropologist working with a native tribe. But when Liz’ circumstances become worse, Finn finds himself relocated with her to the estate of Ogden C. Osborne (Donald Sutherland), a rich client of Liz’ who has taken a shine to her. Finn finds companionship with Ogden’s grandchildren Maya (Kristen Stewart) and Bryce (Chris Evans). Faced with a world entirely unlike the one Finn grew up in – the world of the super-rich – he turns his anthropological interest to them.

Watching Fierce People is a bit like being the proverbial boiled frog: it’s consistently awful, but the degree of awfulness is slowly turned up, so you barely realize how absolutely terrifyingly awful it really is until it’s over and you’ve watched it all.

The film starts with the whitecentric, if not to say absolutely racist use of the native tribe – I think it’s a fictional tribe, the Iskanani, but it may also refer to the Yanomami – as a framing device that is exoticizing and appropriating and generally just so white, I, as a white person, really need to apologize for white people everywhere. I’ll be standing in the shame corner.

Then, of course, we only really look at white people because really, aren’t they the only people worth talking about? Especially when they’re totally rich? Sigh. It’s not that rich people can’t be interesting at all, but this film doesn’t even try. Instead it’s the distillation of every cliché about rich people you ever heard of. It would be funny if it wasn’t so utterly boring.

And then the film decides that what’s missing in this absolute clusterfuck is sexualized violence. Violence that is handled in pretty much the worst way you could possibly imagine: introduced into the film as a shock effect and used to basically toughen up Finn as a character – and that toughening is shown as a good personal development and not as a coping reaction to trauma. Plus, even if you had any doubt about the film’s racism, it becomes undeniable here.

At least the cast is quite good, although Yelchin – contrary to later performances of his – proves to be a weak point. But the cast is absolutely unable to save this mess of a film that confuses bleak cynicism with insight into people.

Summarizing: A waste of a good cast and a waste of time.

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