In Osbourne's close world of privilege and power, Finn and Liz encounter the super rich, a tribe portrayed as fiercer and more mysterious than anything they might find in the South American jungle. (Dirk Wittenborn, the author of the novel on which the film is based, grew up a poor outsider among the super rich in an upper-crust New Jersey enclave.)
While Liz battles her substance abuse and struggles to win back her son's love and trust, Finn falls in love with Osbourne's beautiful granddaughter, Maya (Kristen Stewart). He also befriends her older brother, Bryce (Chris Evans); and wins the favor of Osbourne. When a shocking act of violence shatters Finn's ascension within the Osbourne clan, the golden promises of this lush world quickly sour. Both Finn and Liz, caught in a harrowing struggle for their dignity, discover that membership in a group comes at a steep price.
Surviving in That Rain Forest East of the Delaware River
By Stephen Holden
This is a nifty idea that is laboriously overworked. As “Fierce People” nervously skitters between documentary scenes of the Ishkanani and the story of a mother and son absorbing the tribal customs of the New Jersey gentry, your instinct is throw up your hands and shout, “Enough already; we get it!”
By Lexi Feinberg
It's just fiercely bad
By Geoff Berkshire
Catch it: For unintentional laughs. Finn’s obsession with the Amazonian Ishkanani tribe (his absent father made a documentary about them) is supposed to translate to the over-privileged world he finds himself in. It only leads to a lot of risible situations, including a particularly bad acid trip and a really creepy love scene with the very young, underwear-clad Yelchin and Stewart rubbing body paint all over each other.
Let's parse the movie's use of tribal people a bit.
If the Ishkanani are based on several tribes, the filmmakers have taken the worst tribes they could find and picked the worst aspects of them. I suspect the filmmakers simply read something about the Yanomami ("Fierce People"), decided they knew all about Amazon Indians, and invented tribal scenes out of thin air. Either way, their choice is prejudiced and stereotypical.
The faux documentary scenes show bare-breasted women (naturally), a couple of
The faux documentaries give no hint that the Indians might have a complex religion and philosophy...extensive knowledge of the flora and fauna...tender relations between children, parents, and elders...etc. These Indians are pure savages. By emulating their worst aspects, the movie's characters reinforce this perception. "We're as savage as the worst savages in the world. You know, the barbaric, beastlike Ishkanani. They're horrible and so are we!"
Real Amazon Indians paint their bodies with symbols that have deep meanings for them. Maya and Finn smear paint on each other like kids doing fingerpainting. Real Amazon Indians take hallucinogens for profound religious reasons: to enter dream states where they can communicate with the spirits. Finn takes a hallucinogen because someone gives it to him, because it seems like a good idea, or just because.
In short, Fierce People stereotypes Indians as mindless savages. In that regard, it's not much different from Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, King Kong, or countless potboilers set in primitive jungles. Few people have met an Amazon Indian, so it's movies like this that tell us what they're like.
As the reviews I've quoted indicate, most critics slammed Fierce People. As usual, the critics are right. Rob's rating: A poor 6.0 of 10.
For more on Amazon Indians, see Opera About the Yanomami, Indians in The Librarian: Quest for the Spear, and Indians in FIRST WAVE #1.
Below: The trailer suggests that the movie can't decide whether it's a light comedy or a heavy drama. Which is part of its problem.