Fierce People – DVD Review

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There’s something interesting to me about watching movies with exceptional casts but plots that leave you completely dumbfounded and usually lead to the film going straight to video. You know the ones I mean, they try to be either very dark or have a sense of humor that only 2% of the movie going audience might find funny. Like Running with Scissors.

You don’t keep watching because the film is particularly engrossing, or even emotionally involving — in most cases they hardly ever have those attributes and for all intents and purposes are the exact opposite. What keeps you watching is the perverse entertainment of watching stars that should know better try and make their way through a bad career choice with gritted teeth. Fierce People isn’t quite one of those movies, but comes dangerously close.

After failing to make a summer trip to live amongst and study the Iskanani tribe with his father, Finn Earl finds his plans changed after being arrested while trying to score drugs for his mother, Liz. Ogden C. Osborne, America’s seventh richest man and longtime friend of Liz, has invited them to stay with him on his ten square mile estate. Trying to make things right, she accepts the offer and moves him into the sheltered life of the over privileged. Nothing could possibly go wrong when free will is running rampant. Since Finn is no longer capable of studying the Iskanani tribe, he takes it upon himself to observe the hierarchy of high society. But he soon finds himself being welcomed amongst the tribe and tempted by their sins.

The trouble with the movie is that it never seems to to do a good job of establishing characters or story. there is enough to keep the plot moving, but there’s a sense that they felt too inclined to wedge as much of the novel as possible into the brisk 112 minute running time. To a point where the movie invests so much time setting up all of the different subplots it wants to introduce that none are developed enough to make for interesting viewing.

Fierce People constantly has a hard time figuring out what story it wants to tell, where a sudden shift in tone can happen at any moment. Is it a coming of age story? A look at the most basic human similarities between social classes? The struggle for ones own dignity and place in the world? If only the writer could have chosen one of these things to center the film on in order for a message of some form to seep through as the main theme of the movie.

A few years ago, I fell in love with the Showtime original series Huff. It was a smart, funny series starring Hank Azaria, Oliver Platt, and Blythe Danner about a psychiatrists difficulty balancing his work and family life. Sadly, it was dropped from the network after two stellar seasons. But it wasn’t all for naught, because it introduced me to Anton Yelchin, quite possibly one of the most talented young actors making his way up the Hollywood ladder, with a potentially breakout role in the upcoming Star Trek film. Here his performance feels off and a bit restricted in many scenes. Where he’s never quite allowed to make the character his own.

Fierce People is the most frustrating type of movie to talk about; while never quite reaching a point of pure unwatchability, it never finds a good balance with what it tries to explore. A large contributor to the reason to stick around is the performance by Anton Yelchin, who is quickly becoming one of the most talented young actors working today. Yet even his talent doesn’t make up for a script with numerous problems and cliches.

There is very little to complain about with the 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer found on the disc. While detail at times becoming slightly dull in some scenes, the contrast keeps in step from start to finish. An English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround track is included and suits the film equally well, with the back speakers being put to good use in some parts.

After almost four years of being kept on the shelf, director Griffin Dunne seems to almost be completely talked out about his time and work on the project when it came time to record the included Feature Length Commentary. Leaving for a very bland and humdrum listening experience with this commentary track. He covers the basics that you’d find elsewhere, but there is a very clear sense of exhaustion in his voice.

Breaking Down the Tribe (14:25) is your typical backslapping EPK featurette that shows everyone talking about how wonderful the material was and how they simply had to be part of the production. Followed by all of the actors talking about their characters and why they were drawn to Fierce People. There are also several Deleted Scenes (3:50, 4 total) that are mostly extended or alternate scenes already in the movie. Making very little difference to how you view the overall movie.

Comparing high society to a tribe of natives could have been an interesting movie to watch, if it was handled correctly. Here the filmmakers hardly tread new ground on the idea and instead rely heavily on obvious observations and completely unrelated topics. I don’t even know if it’s worth a rental, to tell you the truth; It takes a few too many stumbles before reaching the finish line to make it worth your while.


Lions Gate presents Fierce People. Directed by Griffin Dunne. Starring Anton Yelchin, Diane Lane, Chris Evans, Donald Sutherland and Kristen Stewart. Written by Dirk Wittenborn. Running time: 112 minutes. Rated R. Released on DVD: February 5, 2007. Available at