When I began to explore my interest in films and filmmaker,
Australian cinema was enjoying a renewal, thanks to filmmakers like
Gillian Armstrong, Peter Weir, Bruce Beresford and the two George Millers.
That renaissance led to a plundering of talent, primarily by Hollywood,
and numerous actors and directors headed to the United States and other
parts of the world to make their respective marks. By the 1990s, Australia
was once again losing ground.

 Since the dawn of the 21st Century, few of the really great films
made Down Under have managed to snag releases in the United States,         
and the rare ones that have, were generally shown in limited venues.
One can at least count on those movies that have either won or been
nominated for awards from the
Australian Film Institute will eventually
find an American distributor. The 2005 awards were dominated by a
handful of films, nearly all of which managed to be shown in the US,
including
OYSTER FARMER, THE PROPOSITION, LOOK BOTH WAYS,
WOLF CREEK, and LITTLE FISH.

 
LITTLE FISH is a drama set in the Cabramatta section of Sidney,
an area known as Little Saigon and the heroin capital of Australia.
Tracy Heart (Cate Blanchett) is a recovering addict, with four years
of sobriety. She spends her days working at a video store and her
evenings under the watchful eye of her mother Janelle (Noni Hazelhurst).
For Tracy, it is a matter of one day at a time in her struggle to stay
clean. Her unemployed, handicapped brother Ray (Martin Henderson)
uses the shop as a drop off point for the drugs he is buying and selling,
much to her dismay. Her father figure Lionel (Hugo Weaving) is a former
football star now reduced to selling paraphernalia to support his drug
habit. Further complicating matters is the return of her former lover
Jonny (Dustin Nguyen) who spent four years in Canada.

 Tracy harbors a desire to expand the video store into an Internet
cafe and, as the film opens, is awaiting notification of a bank loan.
When she is denied because of her checkered past (she was involved
in credit card fraud to support her own drug habit), her world begins to
crumble. Having rekindled her relationship with Jonny, he offers his
financial expertise. Tracy, however, discovers the true nature of his
business dealings and it draws her into a murky world where several
of the characters cross paths.

 Jacqueline Perske's screenplay provides great roles for the actors.
Director Rowan Woods made his feature debut with
THE BOYS and honed his
craft on the small screen helming episodes of one of my favorite sci-fi shows
FARSCAPE. With LITTLE FISH, he proves a natural. He has elicited strong
performances from all of the actors. Blanchett gives a superb performance
as Tracy. Hazelhurst is excellent as her caring mother. Henderson has never
been better as her layabout brother and Nguyen is appropriately seductive
as her lover. Sam Neill has a terrific part as a drug kingpin moving toward
retirement while Joel Tobeck is fine as his henchman. Susie Porter provides
nice support as Tobeck's materialistic wife. Hugo Weaving, however, purloins
the film with his brilliant performance of a once famous sports star coping with
his addiction.

 
LITTLE FISH suffers a bit in its third act when it devolves into a
formulaic caper. Taken as a character study, though, it succeeds thanks
to Woods' strong direction and the lead performances of Blanchett and Weaving.


  Rating:                B+
  MPAA Rating:        R for language, drug content and brief sexuality
  Running time:       114 mins.


                         Viewed on DVD
Little Fish
©  2006 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.