Movie Review
Little Fish
2006
Director: Rowan Woods
Cast: Cate Blanchett, Sam Neill, Hugo Weaving
B


the junkie movie is a tough one to pull off. It was only after the bullet-filled excess of Scarface, or the grandiose drug-soaked mishmash of Gus Van Sant’s Drugstore Cowboy, that much of what is now called the “drug movie” really took off. More than half a decade later, with Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting, the lethargy that’s intrinsic to most drug movies got kicked in the back once again. There was something remarkably absorbing about Trainspotting, though, far from the hypnotic squalor of screwed-up drug deals and its hyper-energetic treatment of cold turkey highs. Unlike Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream, with its visually taxing exploration of the phenomenology of addiction, Boyle’s movie indirectly focused on the social structures that define the "essence" of drugs in a specific time and place. For Boyle, it was early 90s Scotland. For Little Fish director Rowan Woods, it’s Sydney of the new millennium.

Little Fish would feel more at home in the low-life milieu of Scottish “scumbags and bampams,” rather than, say, the hazy urban landscapes of modern day Coney Island. This is a movie of unyuppified ideals, highly-strung individuals, feeble moralism, a great all-Australian cast and sketchy storylines, and it all somehow manages to piece itself together perfectly (however occasionally at the expense of logic and good taste).

Little Fish is Sydney-born director Wood’s second full length feature, which, unlike his debut (1998’s The Boys), didn’t manage to snatch more than a best director nod at the AFI awards last year. That’s not to say this is any less deserving a movie, or one that doesn’t merit any form of recognition outside its intimate place of belonging. Wood’s sophomore effort holds its own as an actively accomplished drug story-cum-social drama, replete with just the right amount of artistic pragmatism to justify its respectful sensibilities for the Australian low-life resonating throughout.


The movie primarily registers as a character piece—despite its bouncing plotlines suggesting otherwise. There is no demonization of their actions, with Woods and scriptwriter Jacqueline Perske using their muddled relationships to trace the character's development from the exposition to the denouement. This gives the whole affair much less of a voyeuristic appeal than your average cinematic junkie-athon. In a film like Requiem for a Dream, addiction was everywhere, as a fundamental possibility for any of the characters. Woods and Perske, on the other hand, eschew such ground by building an intricate web of erratic relationships and flawed dependencies that somehow comes together as the movie rolls. It’s a risky approach, but one that Little Fish pulls off in a very satisfying way. This is in no doubt helped by the immaculate performances that can easily suck one into disregarding all of the incongruous script moments. It is a desolate, desperate, involving film—but one that risks more than it rewards. I’ll say it here: where Little Fish is good, it’s great, and where it’s mediocre, it almost completely fails.

Cate Blanchett plays Tracy Heart, a former heroine addict desperately trying to kick her habit and build a better life for herself. And—guess what?—it isn’t easy. Whether that means not getting approved for a work-related loan, or unsuccessfully tending her step-father (a former rugby star, played by Hugo Weaving) whose days are spent shooting up in a mucky old flat with little aside from four white walls to entertain him: getting back on her own two feet is tough. Yet, for a glimmering second, she seems to have a future, as ill-rooted as its source capital seems. But there’s the old flame being propelled back into her life, the drug-dealing little brother, the mild-mannered gangster, etc. Soon, with each new financial crack, Tracy’s personal visions drift further away, and her objectives narrow down to the single-minded, self-destructive aim of scoring big with the smallest possible effort.

This is one of those movies where little was left to chance—Woods did extensive research (probably supplemented by Ms. Blanchett’s pregnancy, which delayed the shooting by 8 months) and it’s obvious it did the movie only good. It’s not doubt that much of the movie’s merits are thanks to the brilliant cast. Cate Blanchett is truly great—in the same way I suspect Naomi Watts would be, should she for a moment forget about Liev Schreiber’s nutsack and embrace depth.

Eloquent, yet distant, this is believable stuff. But by resorting to a poetic and overly cryptic ending, Woods hardly resolves anything, and the movie fails to pull its weight. It’s a disappointment, then, that once the closing credits roll, you are left with more questions than you’re probably prepared to answer; and as far as art school endings go, this one sinks.

Little Fish is available on DVD.


By: Sandro Matosevic
Published on: 2006-08-16
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