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Little Fish
cast: Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving, Martin Henderson, Sam Neill, and Dustin Nguyen

director: Rowan Woods

109 minutes (15) 2006
widescreen ratio 1.85:1
Tartan DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 8/10
reviewed by Debbie Moon
Tracey has been off heroin for four years, and is desperate to make something of her life. But no one will approve a business loan for an ex-junkie, so she's stuck in the Sydney suburbs with her suspicious, critical mother and small-time dealer brother Ray. When she gets landed with helping her mum's former boyfriend, Lionel, a one-time football star who's trying to kick drugs, he provides a dangerous link back to the world she's left behind, and to underworld boss The Jockey. Surrounded by temptation, is she going to be able to resist, and help keep her family together?

This atmospheric, lovingly photographed Australian film boasts an all-star cast - Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving and Sam Neill, plus a host of other familiar faces - and gives them plenty of character and trauma to sink their teeth into. Blanchett's performance, a world away from the ethereal roles she's best known for, is a particular gem; she makes Tracey a woman frustrated by life on every conceivable level, whose battles with temptation are deeply moving.

However, the film's greatest strength could also be regarded as a weakness. The complexity of the relationships makes the film a little hard to follow, and the parade of personal problems that are slowly unravelled on screen can come close to soap-opera overkill: can one ordinary family really have this many failings and hang ups?

However, the excellent performances keep it all believable, and Woods' intimate direction makes us feel that we're right there in their lives. Making good use of Sydney's multicultural heritage and avoiding most of the clich�s associated with addiction stories, Little Fish is an engrossing and powerful study of the dark side of suburbia.

Little Fish

RATING: 8/10
reviewed by Alasdair Stuart

Tracey Heart's past won't let her go. Aged 32, she's spent the past four years recovering from her heroin habit and redeeming herself in the eyes of her mother. Beset by the complex relationships within her family, her world is thrown into further turmoil by the unexpected return of her ex-boyfriend, Jonny. The criminal aspirations of her brother, Ray, and coping with the attempts of ex-footy star and junkie, Lionel Dawson to withdraw from his habit, almost prove too much. As she becomes tangled with criminal boss Bradley 'The Jockey' Thompson, the complexity of deceit in Sydney's drug-underworld mirrors Tracey's own life. Tracey has to confront her own fears before she learns to love again.

Tracey has spent four years rebuilding her life. She's clean, on the verge of going into business for herself, and with the help of her endlessly supportive mother (Nonie Hazelhurst) looks set to put her drug use behind her. Then, a cascade of events send her spiralling down into a web of deception as her ex-boyfriend (Dustin Nguyen) reappears, her brother (Martin Henderson) makes a play to establish himself on the criminal circuit, and her current boyfriend Lionel (Hugo Weaving) struggles to withdraw from his own habit. Hiding behind lie after lie, Tracey has to save herself whilst, somehow, avoiding the agendas all three men have in mind for her.

This is an extremely brave performance from Cate Blanchett, spiky and naturalistic without any of the smooth edges most Hollywood characters have. Tracey is broken but, like all broken people, still functions and still tries to get on with her life, regardless of what gets thrown in her way. She's not particularly assertive or hysterical but has a natural authority that draws the eye to her whenever she's on screen. Crucially as well she's not overly emotive, Blanchett playing Tracey as a woman who associates emotion, and the truth, with weakness. The scenes where this finally starts to break down, as a result, are all the more affecting especially a moment where Tracey nearly breaks down listening to a children's choir. She's a woman balanced on an absolute knife edge between redemption and doom and the film is brave enough to let viewers draw their own conclusions about which one it's most likely to be.

With a veritable who's who of Australian actors, the cast was always going to be impressive. Henderson, criminally underused in so many of his American roles does a lot with a little here as Tracey's brother whilst Weaving's Lionel is a genuinely tragic figure, half-heartedly attempting rehab, and trapped between wanting to die and being terrified of it happening. Sam Neill, given relatively little screen time also impresses as The Jockey, the criminal boss who everyone else's lives revolve around. Similarly, Nguyen underplays nicely as Tracey's ex-boyfriend and, like all the other characters here, isn't afraid to embrace the more ambiguous elements of the role. There are no real heroes or villains in Little Fish, just people trying to get on with their lives.

However, it's Nonie Hazlehurst who steals the movie. As Kate and Ray's mum she's a towering presence in the film, holding her children together with belligerent affection and refusing, point blank, to let them mess their lives up again. One of her best scenes is with Nguyen, following the discovery that Tracey is at the train station, a local drug den. She absolutely unloads on him, letting years of rage at what her daughter has done to herself out, in a tirade that is as tragic as it is angry. It's Hazlehurst whose performance you remember long after the film has finished and, given the sheer quality of the cast here, that's a testament to how well she works.

Understated and subtle, Little Fish is a quietly poignant film about what happens when things go wrong and you only make them worse. Intelligently written and directed and beautifully acted it's another quality piece of Australian cinema and one which you won't regret watching.
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