"Fierce People," like "Romance & Cigarettes," is an actor-turned-director project that’s been drifting in limbo for two years. Here, the helmer is Griffin Dunne, who behind the camera has turned out mostly forgettable fare like "Practical Magic" and in-jokey indie mockumentary "Lisa Picard Is Famous." In "Fierce People," he’s adapting a novel by Dirk Wittenborn (who also wrote the screenplay) about a young man (Anton Yelchin) who moves with his coke-addicted masseuse mother (Diane Lane) to the estate of an aging billionaire (Donald Sutherland). And, as it turns out, there’s something to that "marketing challenge" that director Dunne has spoken of in interviews about the films; as Jeff Reichert at indieWIRE spoilerishly puts it, "It’s rare that a film as initially unfocused and scattershot as Griffin Dunne’s mock-ethnographic ‘Fierce People’ would halfway redeem itself through the introduction of an anal rape/revenge narrative–but here we have it." He deems the film "generally watchable" despite his dislike of the anthropological thematic heavy-handedness. Nick Schager at Slant has a similar complaint, writing that the film "is structured around the type of analogy that makes one pine for total sensory failure, a desire amplified by the filmmakers’ clear self-satisfaction with what they believe to be a clever narrative conceit." Scott Foundas at the Village Voice calls the film "hopelessly reductive," while Stephen Holden at the New York Times, who kicks off his review with a Fitzgerald quote that should be put to rest for a century or so to recover from overuse, finds the anthropology conceit "intriguing," though "laboriously overworked," and Yelchin’s character "problematic… A little of his whiny voice musing out loud in a too-deliberate tone goes a long way."
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