The Underrated: Fierce People
Fierce People is a strange film. For the life of me, I cannot understand Lionsgate’s decision to bury it. It sports a stellar cast, is based on a simply fabulous and successful book (the author, Dirk Wittenborn, adapted it for the screen) and it is directed by Griffin Dunne who’s previous films include such unmitigated trash as Practical Magic. It’s now seeing the light of day on a very limited and unheralded DVD release, but that’s probably in an attempt to cash in on the increased fame of the teenage actors (although Twilight fans are in for a hell of a shock).
Diane Lane plays Liz Earl, a drug addled masseuse. After her son, Finn (Anton Yelchin) is busted buying drugs for her she makes the decision to decamp to Vlyvalle, New Jersey to work for billionaire Ogden C. Osborne (Donald Sutherland). The film follows Finn’s summer as he befriends the Osborne family, falls in love with Maya (Kristen Stewart) and goes to war with Bryce (Chris Evans).
The teenage cast are superb. Yelchin gives a remarkably fresh performance as Finn, Stewart really can act, despite all evidence to the contrary, and Evans is a charismatic force as Bryce. Sutherland is good in a role that he can probably do in his sleep by now, and the other support is all tone perfect. However, the real plaudits go to Diane Lane, who is not only perfect casting for the role, but gives a nuanced and surprisingly unrelenting performance as the recovering junky. The scene where she discovers coke in Finn’s pocket is exquisite and heart-rending stuff.
The soundtrack is bang on- there’s another great use of Psycho Killer and all the music choices complement the action without overwhelming it. The script also sparkles- a lot of the pleasure of the novel was in the dialogue and Finn’s internal monologues, and a lot of these make it unscathed to the film- the fortune-telling sequence is delivered with relish by Evans, and he does seem to get most of the best lines in the film.
The reason that this film is interesting is that ostensibly Finn is an anthropologist (in a depressing bid to be more like his absent father), and he has an obsessive interest in a remote South American tribe (the Fierce People of the title). Finn treats the Osborne family as an anthropological project, and the realisation that the tribe he’s studying is more savage than the alleged primitives. The film fairly unsubtly makes this point by cutting vast swathes of a fake documentary into the action, but it doesn’t feel intrusive. Rather it complements the on-screen action.
This really is a very, very good film.
However, Fierce People was, for me, not a complete success, but that’s because of how much I love the book, and it is significantly different. There’s huge chunks of the novel excised, and several key characters are missing or amalgamated into other characters. The film also doesn’t end on as bitter a note as the novel. In retrospect, the novel was probably impossible to adapt as I wanted, and experience suggests that a translation of the novel rather than an adaptation is a less than happy viewing experience. Nevertheless, there is one significant character change that I’m going to discuss, as it pissed me off something fierce, so spoiler ahead, but it’s so integral to the book that I’ll invisitext it.
I can see why they made this change, I really can, but as a fan of the book it did mar my enjoyment of the film. It’s still excellent, and I don’t mean to be all obsessive fanboy over it, but I do wish they’d found another motivation for Bryce.
Nevertheless, Fierce People is a truly excellent film, and where else are you going to see Kristen Stewart strip down and attempt to pop the cherry of a gauche teenager? In fact, watching her here almost makes me want to watch the evil Mormon propaganda that is Twilight. Except I’m not a 13-year-old girl experiencing a previously unknown tingle in her nether regions, so I won’t.
Instead, I am going to purchase Fierce People, and it will be getting many a rewatching once I remove my head from my ass and stop obsessing about the novel. It’s polished, enjoyable and intelligent film-making and was an excellent way to spend a couple of hours on a Sunday.
Track it down- you won’t be disappointed.
Until next time,