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Feature


A sixteen-year-old boy named Finn (Anton Yelchin) is about to escape New York to spend the summer in South America studying the Iskanani Indians, with his AWOL anthropologist father, when he’s arrested picking up cocaine for his drug-addled mother Liz (Diane Lane). Liz takes this as a sign to pull her and her son’s lives together and moves them into a guest house on the vast country estate of her ex-client, the aging aristocratic billionaire, Ogden C. Osbourne (Donald Sutherland). Once amalgamated into Osbourne’s clan, things begin looking up for Finn and his mother, until a series of shocking events sends their world reeling.

Fierce People
Here I go again with yet another generally disliked and quickly forgotten indie film filled with quirk and mirth and more superstar actors then you can shake an Oscar at. I’ve learned not to blindly trust Donald Sutherland or Diane Lane, so in this case it was Fierce Creatures’ director  Griffin Dunne that piqued my interest. The last time I saw Dunne it was the ‘80s, and he was running away from the whole of New York City as an actor in Martin Scorsese’s After Hours. Before that I enjoyed him as the wise cracking, rotting ghost in John Landis’ An American Werewolf in London. I was generally curious about his directing prowess.

Fierce People boils down to another ‘look at me’ movie. ‘Look at me, I’m wild and wacky, pushing buttons and breaking taboos from the 1960s’. ‘Look at me, I’m tackling all the issues we aren’t suppose to talk about in mixed company’. ‘Look at me, I staring a kid who does things kids shouldn’t be allowed to do’. The plot, which isn’t entirely unoriginal but lacking in anything special, wonders listlessly without ever really making any sort of point. Laughs, gasps, and drama are wretched too forcefully, and Dunne doesn’t really have the chops of someone like Wes Anderson, who can shift between emotions rather effortlessly, and with an original sense of visual flare. Dunne doesn’t fail, but he doesn’t rise above adequate, and Dirk Wittenborn’s script (based on his novel) is far too bloated and self important for even a great director to overcome.

Fierce People
The actors do work for the most part, and not just because they’re talented. Dunne, being an actor himself of course, knows how to direct actors, and this is his gift to the film. Our lead, a real fifteen year old named Anton Yelchin, is quite charming despite his smartass dialogue. Chris Evans continues his streak of solid performances in less then solid motion pictures, even though his character acts like a lesser Rules of Attraction reject. Lane and Sutherland are both fun to watch, but don’t do much to push themselves, and despite the DVD cover are really secondary members of the cast anyway. None of these performances really matter though, it’s still a hobbled script.

Video


Nothing to flip out either way here with this anamorphically enhanced, 1.85:1 transfer, like the film it’s profoundly adequate. Black levels could do with a bit of deepening, as they tend to absorb the tones around them a bit. Details are decent, though there is quite a bit of edge enhancement and moiré effects occasionally impact patters on walls and clothing. Grain and noise are both very minimal. Colours and contrast levels are a little on the flat side, but effective enough to get us by.

Fierce People

Audio


More adequacy all around, in every one of your 5.1 Dolby Digital channels. Fierce People doesn’t have a lot of intricate sound design or audio fury to throw around. Dialogue is centred and clear, though accompanied by a shade of hiss when presented in an otherwise silent scene. Sound effects are very minimal, and only outdoor ambiance really bleeds into the rear speakers. The film’s score is a little too soft rock for my taste, but it sounds nice and warm from all channels, and there’s plenty of crisp bass that doesn’t bleed.

Extras


Griffin Dunne’s commentary track is pretty sombre and pretty dry, but it is fact filled and informative. Dunne talks lovingly about his co-conspirators, especially his young actors. One of the best things about the commentary is that Dunne addresses many of the critic’s concerns with the film, and he takes the criticism very well. I (probably unfairly) expected more mirth out of the star of After Hours (who apparently more or less made Scorsese make the film), but his thoughts are still appreciated.
The fluffy fifty minute featurette is mostly made up of the actors, writer and director waxing a little too philosophical about the film. They dig way further into the characters then the script or film does, and too much focus is put on the secondary adult characters. This is followed by three, non-anamorphic deleted scenes. The first two are just slight trims that don’t amount to more then a minute, but the second is actually a better ending then the one given to the film. In total these last about four minutes.

Fierce People

Overall


A dark turn at the end of the second act will probably make or break the film for most viewers, but I’m guessing most viewers will agree with my blah take on the experience. Fans of Dunne and the actors may want to give the film a rent, other folks interested in particularly dark takes of adolescence will do better with Igby Goes Down.


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