×

Little Fish

The leap from addiction to acceptability is strewn with obstacles in "Little Fish," a superior working-class meller from Down Under. Blessed with stellar performances, especially by lead Cate Blanchett as an ex-junkie looking for a fresh break, this sophomore feature by Australian director Rowan Woods marks a strong return after his powerful debut, "The Boys" (1998).

With:
Tracy Heart - Cate Blanchett Brad "The Jockey" Thompson - Sam Neill Lionel Dawson - Hugo Weaving Ray Heart - Martin Henderson Janelle Heart - Noni Hazlehurst Jonny Nguyen - Dustin Nguyen Steven Moss - Joel Tobeck

The leap from addiction to acceptability is strewn with obstacles in “Little Fish,” a superior working-class meller from Down Under. Blessed with stellar performances, especially by lead Cate Blanchett as an ex-junkie looking for a fresh break, this sophomore feature by Australian director Rowan Woods marks a strong return after his powerful debut, “The Boys” (1998). Blanchett’s name is the hook for international markets, but pic’s slow, intense pacing is likely to lead more to fest and arthouse engagements than to wider biz. However, B.O. on September release in Oz is likely to be strong.

Blanchett plays Tracy Heart, 32, a reformed drug addict who lives in Sydney’s Little Saigon district with her mother, Janelle (Noni Hazlehurst), who keeps her daughter on a tight rein. Tracy has a job as a videostore manager but wants to open her own business if she can get a bank loan.

Tracy is on good terms with her estranged stepfather, Lionel Dawson (Hugo Weaving), a junkie and former sports hero. While Tracy is visiting Lionel one night, crime boss (and Lionel’s occasional lover) Brad “The Jockey” Thompson (Sam Neill) comes by to drop off some heroin for Lionel and also to announce his own retirement.

Noting Lionel’s return to active addiction, Tracy decides to give her stepdad a wider berth. But other reminders of her druggie past surface in the form of her former dealer/b.f., Jonny (Dustin Nguyen).

After five years away in Vancouver, Jonny claims to have a career as a stockbroker and Tracy finds she still has feelings for him. However, unbeknownst to her, Jonny is planning a “one-time” score and has recruited Tracy’s disabled brother, Ray (Martin Henderson), into his scheme.

Though the film’s pacing is somewhat over-deliberate, script by Aussie TV writer Jacquelin Perske is dense with subplots and always holds the attention. Some narrative ellipses seem designed to tease viewers’ suspicions, but may baffle some.

Nonetheless, Woods’ direction is tightly controlled, with Danny Ruhlmann’s camera restlessly observing the characters. Slow-burning narrative gets a boost in the tense climax, where most of the plot threads cleverly intersect.

Blanchett is superlative as Tracy, an older, sadder, wiser version of the visiting “cousin” in her segment of Jim Jarmusch’s “Coffee and Cigarettes.” Supporting perfs are very strong.

Kiwi actor Henderson is a revelation as Ray, and both Hazlehurst and Neill quickly sketch credible personalities as Tracy’s mom and Brad. However, it’s Weaving who almost steals the film with his sensational portrait of Lionel.

Only false note is Nguyen’s Jonny, whose accent unnecessarily and distractingly seems to float between various continents.

Popular on Variety

Little Fish

Australia

Production: An Icon Film Distribution release of a Film Finance Corp. Australia presentation of a Porchlight Films production, in association with Mullis Capital Independent, New South Wales Film & Television Office, Myriad Pictures, Dirty Films. (International sales: Myriad, Los Angeles.) Produced by Vincent Sheehan, Liz Watts, Richard Keddie. Executive producers, Robert Mullis, Barrie M. Osborne, Kirk D'Amico, Marion Pilowsky. Directed by Rowan Woods. Screenplay, Jacquelin Perske.

Crew: Camera (color), Danny Ruhlmann; editors, Alexandre De Franceschi, John Scott; music, Nathan Larson; production designer, Luigi Pittorino; costume designer, Melinda Doring; sound (Dolby Digital), Sam Petty; casting, Ann Robinson, Mullinars Consultants. Reviewed at Hoyts Director's Suite, Sydney, July 4, 2005. (In Melbourne Film Festival -- opener. Also in Toronto Film Festival -- Special Presentations.) Running time: 113 MIN. (English, Vietnamese dialogue)

With: Tracy Heart - Cate Blanchett Brad "The Jockey" Thompson - Sam Neill Lionel Dawson - Hugo Weaving Ray Heart - Martin Henderson Janelle Heart - Noni Hazlehurst Jonny Nguyen - Dustin Nguyen Steven Moss - Joel Tobeck

More Film

  • There's Something in the Water

    Toronto Film Review: 'There’s Something in the Water'

    Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, the unpleasant sights, smells and pollutants of industry have typically been located where the poor folk dwell, and police society needn’t notice. With the dawn of popular environmental consciousness about a half-century ago, it became clear that toxic byproducts with a dismayingly long shelf life and unknown (or, [...]

  • 'David Foster: Off the Record' Review:

    Toronto Film Review: 'David Foster: Off the Record'

    By the early 1970s, as the counterculture was dissolving and reconfiguring, there were new pop-star archetypes on the horizon that we still tend to think of — the glam rocker, the sensitive singer-songwriter, the hair-band metal strutter, the prog-rock wizard, the belting pop chanteuse, the punk rocker. But there was another figure of the era [...]

  • Bob IgerSimon Weisenthal Gala honoring Bob

    Bob Iger Would Have Combined Disney With Apple if Steve Jobs Were Still Alive

    Disney and Apple are both launching their own streaming services come November, but Disney CEO Bob Iger says the two companies weren’t always on competing paths. In an excerpt from his autobiography published Wednesday in “Vanity Fair,” Iger revealed that Disney and Apple likely would have merged if Steve Jobs hadn’t died in 2011. “I [...]

  • Aaron Janus Lionsgate

    Lionsgate Hires 'A Quiet Place' Producer Aaron Janus as Senior VP of Production

    Lionsgate has hired Aaron Janus as its new senior vice president of production and promoted Meredith Wieck to the post of vice president of production.  Prior to Lionsgate, Janus served as Platinum Dunes’ head of development, where he oversaw filmmakers Brad Fuller, Andrew Form and Michael Bane. There, he brought in “A Quiet Place,” on [...]

  • Ang Lee Reveals First Look at

    Ang Lee on 'Gemini Man' and De-Aging Will Smith

    On paper, Ang Lee’s “Gemini Man” is a standard-issue, shoot ’em up with Will Smith playing a deadly assassin who must battle a younger clone of himself. The explosions and gun battles aren’t what drew Lee to the project, even if they’re the reason that most people will show up at theaters when it opens [...]

  • Hopper Reserve

    Dennis Hopper's Dying Wish: His Own Strain of Marijuana

    Even as celebrity brands are starting to flood the emerging Cannabis market, Hopper Reserve stands out. The brand was launched by Marin Hopper, Dennis Hopper’s daughter from his marriage to Brooke Hayward. Hopper Reserve is a gram of California indoor-grown flower, two packs of rolling papers, a pair of matches and a trading card either [...]

  • Sean Clarke Aardman Staff Photography Bristol.Pic

    Aardman Appoints Sean Clarke as New Managing Director

    Aardman, the Oscar-winning animation studio behind “Chicken Run” and “Early Man,” has appointed Sean Clarke as its new managing director, replacing co-founder David Sproxton, who is stepping down after 43 years. Clarke has worked at the British studio for more than 20 years, including heading the international rights and marketing department for over a decade. [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content