September 30, 2011

Little Fish

I've seen Little Fish before but just lately popped the dvd back in the player and just again realized why I'm fascinated with this movie. Most films dealing with addiction talk much about hitting rock bottom or the rocky road of rehab but there's not much about the recovery process or how you pick yourself up after and rebuild your life. Little Fish is a little known Australian Indie film that precisely deals with this. It's very real and gripping but at the same time, somehow shows some hope.

Set in Cabramatta, a suburb of Sydney which has the largest Vietnamese community in Australia, it follows Tracy Heart (Cate Blanchett), a former heroin junkie who almost lost her life. When the film opens, we learn that she's 4 years into her recovery and is trying to desperately re-establish her life. At 32, she's moved back in with her mother, Janelle (Noni Hazlehurst). She manages a video store and takes the edge off with her daily swim in a community pool. Tracy is trying to secure a bank loan so she can go into partnership with her boss who owns the video shop. She soon finds out that she can never really escape her past when her loans are constantly denied due to her past record. Furthermore, the three men in her life just seem to keep tugging her back into her former world. Her brother Ray (Martin Henderson), a small time heroin dealer, arranges exchanges to be dropped at the video store. The only father figure in her life, ex-rugby star Lionel Dawson (Hugo Weaving) is himself a heroin addict and is actually the one who turned her into a user. Her ex-boyfriend Jonny (Dustin Nguyen, yes of 21 Jump Street!), once a junkie himself, suddenly comes back from a family imposed exile in Vancouver. With his return, Tracy is unnerved and begins to feel that the controls she has set in her life the past 4 years are slowly coming apart.

It's not an easy movie to sit through but it is riveting and a well scripted story of someone who is trying to live a clean life but now has to live up to the consequences of her past choices. It's a very astute observation of the human condition by scriptwriter Jacqueline Perske and executed skillfully with great realism by Rowan Woods. Aside from the recovery theme of the film, Ms. Perske also managed to discuss themes of immigrant (Vietnamese) life in Australia, a mother's love for her adult children who still depend on her and the temptation of the last score all very effectively in one movie. Furthermore, the details of the relationships and the back story between Tracy, Lionel, Janelle, Ray and Jonny are relayed in bits and pieces meticulously like a puzzle that you never know exactly where the movie was taking you (I loved that!).

This, I think, is Cate Blanchett's best movie (acting wise). It is so diverse from her more grandiose roles in The Aviator and Elizabeth but she is very compelling as a woman constantly trying to claw her way from slipping back. A master of accents, she has very thick and less refined Aussie accent here. Her physicality as Tracy is incredible that even her walk suggests some sadness. It is a very raw and visibly broken performance that as you watch it, you become so fearful for her. But it's not only her that's great in this movie for this is such an ensemble film. Hugo Weaving is devastating as a man who just can't get it together. Lionel and Tracy's bond as step-father and step-daughter is so strong that it's endearing and at the same time heartbreaking. Noni Hazlehurst is moving as a mom who's desperately trying to keep her daughter from slipping. Martin Henderson and Dustin Nguyen were also both effective. Sam Neil plays Lionel's supplier, Brad.

Oh, you may wonder about the title, well, it refers to those plastic fish containers that usually contain soy sauce but in this film it's used for drugs. It's a shame this movie didn't get a huge buzz here in the US although it did get great reviews from critics (see here). Little Fish however, won 5 Australian Film Institute Awards for Best Actress (Cate Blanchett), Best Actor (Hugo Weaving), Best Supporting Actress (Noni Hazlehurst) plus Best Sound and Editing. I just have to add this because it's amusing, but below is Cate Blanchett's acceptance speech from the Inside Film Awards for Little Fish. She gets a little help from George Clooney:


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