Tracy (Cate Blanchett) works as an assistant manager in a small video-rental store in Sydney, Australia. She is recovering from a heroin addiction and trying to get money together to co-open a computer-gaming center with her boss. She lives with her mom and every once-in-awhile, looks in on her father figure, Lionel (Hugo Weaving). On his birthday, her brother (Martin Henderson) brings back Jonny (Dustin Nguyen), her old flame when she was using. He claims to be going straight and things begin to bubble again. This is interrupted by the fact that both Lionel and Tracy's brother are in business (and in Lionel's case, a sexual relationship) with Bradley (Sam Neill, complete menace), a ruthless drug dealer who is trying to retire. Tracy's hold on sobriety is tested to unfathomable lengths, and her trust in both brother and John is shaken to the core.
There aren't any real tricks to Little Fish. The film is blunt in its honesty, which may cause some people to misread it as boring. It will no doubt test some viewers' patience, but the key to the film's magic is in that spare nature, dissected visually by ace cinematographer Danny Ruhlman. The use of flares and the mix of hand-held and lingering Steadicam work (not completely unlike 21 Grams, without the graininess) give a sensuality and mystery to Sydney's Little Saigon district. Woods doesn't interweave stories but rather lays them out as being connected right from the start, taking away any hint of trickery.
More so, you couldn't ask for better actors. Blanchett, one of the best actresses working today, follows up her turn as Katherine Hepburn in The Aviator with a much more subtle and measured performance that permeates throughout the film. Prepared to be floored by Weaving (you might know him as Agent Smith, Mr. Anderson). This Aussie fireball of an actor fills the screen with a hypnotic presence, whether he's trying to fight off an addiction or reminiscing with Bradley about their early days. There's also Noni Hazlehurst, who brings deep reserves of pain and regret to Tracy's mom. This is powerhouse acting, all around.
The fatal flaw of Little Fish is that this is, sadly, ground that has been treaded on before, quite often in fact. Woods is a talented director and somehow makes the honesty of the film feel surreal, somewhat like floating in limbo, but he doesn't have the foresight (or the screenplay) to go any farther than the normal pitfalls and promises of addicts and recoveries. It's not the worst thing for a young director to just hone his style on a small mood piece. There are always bigger fish to fry.
Run time: 114 mins
In Theaters: Thursday 8th September 2005
Distributed by: First Look Pictures
Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 89%
Fresh: 24 Rotten: 3
IMDB: 6.4 / 10
Director: Rowan Woods
Producer: Richard Keddie, Vincent Sheehan, Liz Watts
Screenwriter: Jacqueline Perske
Starring: Cate Blanchett as Tracy, Sam Neill as The Jockey, Hugo Weaving as Lionel, Martin Henderson as Ray, Noni Hazlehurst as Janelle, Joel Tobeck as Moss, Susie Porter as Jenny, Dustin Nguyen as Jonny, Lisa McCune as Laura, Nina Liu as Mai, Daniela Farinacci as Donna, Linda Cropper as Denise, Ferdinand Hoang as Khiem, Anh Do as Tran, Jason Chong as Mingh, Natasha Beaumont as Tania, Bic Runga as Night Club Singer, Lisa Bailey as Suzy, Lan Tran as June, Anthony Wong as Mr. Chan