Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Fierce People: Grade C

Fierce People (2007)
Donald Sutherland, Diane Lane, Anton Yelchin, Chris Evans, Kristen Stewart. Director Griffin Dunne.

Yelchin is a 15 year old with absent father and alcoholic mother. He is obsessed with anthropology and the fierce Amazonian Yanomami tribe. His mother (Lane), a masseuse, goes on the wagon and takes her son to a rich client’s estate in New Jersey. Sutherland, the rich man, gives a wonderful performance as a modern day Great Gatsby. There are parties, feasts, festivals, balloon races, and romances as the undereducated, amoral and idle rich fritter away their lives. The thrust of the story is that the boy is supposed to study the wealthy clan anthropologically, establishing a parallel with the premodern Yanomami by showing extremely primitive motives and behavior beneath the veneer of high society. The sets and costumes are excellent and do convey the boy’s sense of being accepted into the upper crust, but as a mascot, not a real member, perhaps as a participant anthropologist would be.

Unfortunately, all the characters are two-dimensional and uninteresting. The rich people’s antics are stereotypical, exaggerated, and the portrayal is mean-spirited. The directing of physical movement is good but the dialog is clunky so characters seem to be reciting lines. At the end of the movie, everybody just goes home. No conclusions are drawn, no lessons are learned. The filmmakers add some ghostly Yanomami tribesmen in the woods to reinforce the supposed parallel between the two kinds of “fierce people,” and that’s a nice touch, but only a superficial overlay, symptomatic of the way the premise for the story is wasted. The Nanny Diaries also adopted the anthropological premise but like this movie, threw it away. Rich people with feet of clay is a fertile topic, but it was explored better in The Godfather series or even in TV shows like Dallas, than in this movie. One last criticism is that Yelchin’s character grated on my nerves throughout. He plays a slow-talking, highly controlled, extremely precocious youth, so precocious that the character was downright annoying. The movie is a lost opportunity but moderately interesting for what it attempts to do.

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