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Little Fish (2006)
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by PaulBryant

"Heroines shoot heroin, don’t they?"
3 stars

Cate Blanchett’s last role – as Katherine Hepburn in Martin Scorsese’s The Aviator – won her an Oscar, apparently persuading Academy voters that it is difficult to impersonate the First Lady of American Cinema. It isn’t, and I’d wager that, given enough red hair dye and upward-tilt nose jobs, Rich Little could have pulled off the feat nearly as well. Even so, Blanchett is a fine actress independent of such haughty imitations, and with Little Fish she tries her hand at grungier and grittier material, as a recovering heroin addict trying to sew her frayed life back into a meaningful thread.

Having finally moved on from hypodermics and kleptomania, Cate’s Tracy Heart (how’s that for a good-girl name?) manages a video store in Sidney’s “Little Saigon” district in densely urban Australia. One might call her, as the title so amiably suggests, a little fish in the big pond of life. Big ponds can be overwhelming places, of course, especially when they’re populated with bigger, hungrier fish, and for Tracy these predators come in the form of the Australian mega-banks who won’t lend her the money she needs to expand her video store into an Internet café. However, Mrs. Heart does have extremely bad credit, zero collateral, and a history of credit card fraud, so it just might be that these big fish are bigger because they’re smart enough not to immediately trust once-malevolent minnows like her.

Anyways, she’s turned down for cash again and again, whilst her personal life suddenly falls into a ghosts-from-the-past tailspin. An ex-boyfriend, Jonny (Dustin Nguyen), shows up at her door unannounced; her one-legged brother (Martin Henderson) shows signs of being back on the horse; and her surrogate father Lionel (Hugo Weaving) is pathetically strung out on heroin, again. Scrubbed up and sickly smooth, former love Jonny has spent the last few years in Vancouver (a place where, the character informs, “everyone is making big money” – which is a description I could personally argue against, but that isn't important) working as a stockbroker; pulling in cash by gambling other people’s cash. Tracy hasn’t seen him since she stopped doing smack, and can’t remember a time they made love when she wasn’t high.

So, bracing an emotional tidal wave of old-flames, junkie pals, an overanxious mother (whom she lives with in a claustrophobic apartment), and the nagging problem of trying to expand her business in order to prove she’s no longer in self-destruct mode, Tracy has never had been under more pressure to stay sober. Blanchett conveys this fretful state of mind well; her Tracy is constantly brushing away loose strands of hair, grinding anxious molars, and darting nervous eyes. Unfortunately, this is about all she does. There isn’t enough meat on Jacquelin Perske’s boney screenplay that Blanchett can sink her well-sharpened acting incisors into, and hence she achieves little more than a pantomime study of a recovering addict. If her last movie saw Cate mimic The Great Kate, here she’s stuck with a toned-down Courtney Love, without all the promiscuity. Ahh, the highs and lows of the movie business.

In any case, her performance is perhaps overshadowed by the film’s best work, turned in by Hugo Weaving. Playing Tracy’s homosexual ex-footballer family-friend, Weaving is the only human face (human fish?) in the movie, able to be at once humorous, pathetic, and warm as a one-time celebrity whose life has drifted slowly and irreconcilably into a routine of heroin and broken promises. He gets his drugs from Bradley (Sam Neill, who was much more believable gawking at computer-generated brachiosaurs) his gold-bedecked ex-boyfriend who is looking to get out of the drug trade – presumably so he can focus on maintaining his orangey tan and Crest Whitestripped grin. Bradley is a mysterious figure about whom we discover little, other than that he likes to have young men dropped at his doorstep for sex. Presumably this is supposed to be a comment on the fact that no genuine emotional connection exists between any of the characters.

This superficial treatment of characters is perhaps why – Weavings performance aside – the whole affair stirs up little emotion, despite the complexity of the various interrelationships and the way each character's life seems perched on the edge of a different precipice. This unfortunate situation is not helped by the uninspired direction of Rowan Woods, who never creates a single memorable image the entire movie (other than the movie’s clichéd bookends which display an innocent Tracy as a blurry, silhouetted young child prancing along a sandy beach at sunset – a clunky reminder of the paradise she’s lost). Mr. Woods also can’t seem to decide what he wants to say about all these “little fish”. Are they to be forever squashed by the larger, faster, toothier swimmers? Or are they destined to be the ones who will some day inherit the earth? Or, more optimistically, if they each kicked their respective habit would they be able to rise to the top of the food chain, or merely chug along as part of some Ma Joad-esque prophesy?

There was potential for Little Fish to swim against the current of drug-movie clichés, but Mr. Wood seems less interested in composing a new work than he is conducting a harmless medley of old classics. And so, without a fresh set of interesting characters, the effect is predictably lukewarm.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=12803&reviewer=364
originally posted: 02/25/06 03:52:34
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User Comments

1/17/07 Ionicera unfocused screenplay 3 stars
11/24/06 Elizabeth Shannon Brilliant film, best I have seen in years. Live, love 5 stars
4/29/06 Joe Smaltz Underwhelming! 1 stars
2/28/06 darwin must see, largely due to Blanchett & Weaving 5 stars
12/06/05 Laura Moving, beautiful 5 stars
10/25/05 Green Gremlin One of the best Australian films of 2005 4 stars
9/29/05 E. Northam Excellent acting; depressing subject: self-destructive addicts' toxicity to loved ones. 3 stars
9/26/05 Lauren So real it scared me 5 stars
9/21/05 edwin thrisk Disappointing 3 stars
9/20/05 Joanne blogg overrated, unnecessarily convoluted plot, shows no knowledge at all of heroin adiction. 3 stars
9/15/05 john bale Down and out in Cabramatta - great cast & acting - best Aussie flick in months 5 stars
9/13/05 emmy langley Good cast and crew should have gave us much much more. Story and script just dull. 2 stars
9/12/05 Alex Brisbourne Not an easy film to watch, highly believable, good cast, recommended 4 stars
9/11/05 stewart jones bland and boring 1 stars
9/09/05 jeff not for dummies 5 stars
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  DVD: 11-Apr-2006



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