A massage therapist looking to overcome her addictions and reconnect with her son, whose father is an anthropologist in South America studying the Yanomani people, moves in with a wealthy ex-client in New Jersey.
Release Year: 2005
Rating: 6.5/10 (3,066 voted)
Critic's Score: 54/100
Stars: Diane Lane, Donald Sutherland, Anton Yelchin
Trapped in his mother's Lower East Side apartment, sixteen-year-old Finn wants nothing more than to escape New York and spend the summer in South America studying the Iskanani Indians, or "Fierce People," with the anthropologist father he's never met. But Finn's dreams are shattered when he is arrested in a desperate effort to help his drug-dependent mother, Liz, who scrapes by working as a masseuse. Determined to get their lives back on track, Liz moves the two of them into a guest house on the vast country estate of her ex-client, the aging aristocratic billionaire, Ogden C. Osbourne. In Osbourne's close world of privilege and power, Finn and Liz encounter a tribe fiercer and more mysterious than anything they might find in the South American jungle: the super rich. While Liz battles her substance abuse and struggles to win back her son's love and trust…
Writers: Dirk Wittenborn, Dirk Wittenborn
Ogden C. Osborne
Paz de la Huerta
Once you become one of them, it changes you forever.
Release Date: 30 November 2007
Filming Locations: Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
Opening Weekend: $19,968
(9 September 2007)
(23 September 2007)
Did You Know?
Eddie Rosales who played the shaman in the movie's dream sequence was actually speaking in Filipino.
When the police car takes them away from their apartment it has a stop light out, but when it is arriving at the country house the light is fixed.
There's this tribe in South America called the Ishcanani. That means fierce people.
They're. They're like the meanest people in the world. They'll cut off your thumbs, and they'll shit in your hammock just like we say hello.
A coming-of-age tale that's a complex, quirky treasure
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
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.