After cleaning up her addiction, Tracy Heart (Cate Blanchett) is treading emotional water and trying to rebuild her relationship with her single mother, Janelle (Noni Hazlehurst), aspiring to upgrade her working life from video shop manager to internet cafe business owner. When her boyfriend Jonny (Dustin Nguyen) returns after four years away, it coincides with other problems in her life, including the desperation of her mother's addicted and banished ex boyfriend Lionel Dawson (Hugo Weaving), who turned Tracy onto drugs, the criminal aspirations of her brother Ray (Martin Henderson) and the multi faceted criminal Bradley Thompson (Sam Neill).
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
A superb cast, mostly playing roles against type, make Little Fish a captivating and emotionally involving film, delivered with the flourish of a filmmaker who knows his craft and what to do with it to reach his audience. The screenplay, the direction and the performances blend seamlessly into a visceral movie, ably supported by the vital elements of music and production design.
Cate Blanchett is mesmerising as the troubled Tracy, who is trying to kick free from a life of depressed melancholy in the wake of heroin addiction. The fact that she has a close relationship with her mother's ex, Lionel (Hugo Weaving) who introduced her to the drug, is just one of the elements of the screenplay that enrich the film for its complexity and for its unexpected veracity. Blanchett bleeds on screen from every painful pore, yet she also shows Tracy's optimistic side when she tries to defy the ugly reality of being refused a bank loan. A complex, vulnerable and recognisable character, Tracy pulls us into her inner world with her depth of passion.
Hugo Weaving makes a remarkable jump in characterisation as the junkie Lionel, never once allowing us to see him acting. His transformation is both physically and emotionally complete. Likewise Sam Neill as the bisexual criminal who can buy his thrills: written and performed with layers of characteristics, Lionel is so well observed I imagine he is based on a real person.
Jonny (Dustin Nguyen) is another genuine character, defying the obvious profiles, as are all the supports; this is but one of the film's many strengths. Every single cast member is riveting on screen, and the emotional interchange of this story sets up a dynamic framework that suggests, hints and intimates much of the deeper elements. The subtext is plain enough: the actions and events of the past are ricocheting through the present for everyone. No, not just ricocheting through, but shrapnel wounding the present, underlining the fearful notion that our future is determined entirely by our present; every day, every decision counts.
The film allows the audience to connect all the dots, avoiding too much exposition and making revelations throughout, engaging us in the process.
The intangibles and the unspecified waves from the past float through the film like Tracy herself floats in the swimming pool; her swimming plays with the symbolism of her life (from making progress to treading water), band is also symbolic of water cleansing her soul. She clearly loves the sea: her fondest memories are of her childhood on the beach. On her bedroom door is a poster of colourful little fish: this is what she sees when she's alone, a reflection to taunt her now she swims in the pool. This has a symbolic significance in the final scene.
Audiences will respond to those elements that propelled Lantana and Japanese Story - well observed truths about the human condition. Not in the desert, not in middle class suburbia, but in working class Western Sydney. The character and relationship resonances, though, are similar.
Review by Louise Keller:
A tough film about characters living in the quicksand of a transient multi-cultural society, Little Fish is a powerful drama that is both candid and insightful. Like his haunting 1998 drama The Boys, Rowan Woods' latest film takes a group of troubled characters with corrosive lives. Like the many boat-people living in the suburb in which they live, these characters are running away from their past, and finding circumstances to be terrifying a quicksand. It's about family, friends and lovers.
Cate Blanchett is the vulnerable Tracy Heart, struggling to make a better life for herself. She works long, thankless hours at a video shop in the Vietnamese quarter of the western suburbs, but is unable to discard the liabilities of her heroin addiction days. There's her black credit rating, which gets in the way of getting a bank loan to become part-owner in the business, but even more distressing are the black seeds of her dysfunctional family that keep dragging her back to nebulous ground. Tracy is only at peace with the world when doing laps at the local pool. Childhood memories of a little girl at the beach, are all she clings to.
Blanchett lures us into the story with the kind of conviction we are used to seeing from every role she embraces. I especially like Sam Neill as the well-dressed thug with bling bling whose leering manner is far more frightening than an outwardly rough-guy could ever be. But all the cast is excellent: Hugo Weaving as the tragically addicted Lionel, Martin Henderson as Tracy's bad-egg brother Ray and Dustin Nguyen as Jonny, Tracy's Vietnamese former junkie boyfriend, now turned stockbroker. 'You know how to love someone,' Ray tells Tracy, 'just fuckin' dive in.' Noni Hazlehurst brings a lot of oomph as Tracy's mother, an empathetic woman who is the one constant in her life.
Minimalist music adds to the tenseness as events draw to a gripping climax in a caravan on a deserted block of land. There are no magic endings, simply an understanding of the journey the characters have made and hope for the future.
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INTERVIEWS - with Rowan Woods and Noni Hazlehurst
LITTLE FISH (MA)
CAST: Cate Blanchett, Sam Neill, Hugo Weaving, Martin Henderson, Noni Hazlehurst, Dustin Nguyen, Anh Do, Lisa McCune, John Nguyen, Susie Porter, Rachel Aveling,
PRODUCER: Richard Keddie, Vincent Sheehan, Liz Watts
DIRECTOR: Rowan Woods
SCRIPT: Jacqueline Perske
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Danny Ruhlmann ACS
EDITOR: John Scott, Alexandre de Franceschi ASE
MUSIC: Not credited
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Luigi Pittorino
RUNNING TIME: 114 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Icon
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: September 8, 2005
VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Warner Home Video
VIDEO RELEASE: January 18, 2006