Thursday, 5 August 2010

The Past Is Right Here.

I truly believe that anyone who knows anything about Australian film from the first decade of this here century we find ourselves in will recognise that line instantly. Somehow, despite the fact that it underperformed at the box office everywhere, Little Fish seems to have caught on in a much bigger way than one might have imagined. I recall at the time not overly loving the film, but it has grown in my esteem over the years between my initial viewing (more than likely viewings, due to my employment in 2005...) and my recent one as part of this project.

The film received a lot of attention at the time as it was the first local appearance of our Cate (Blanchett) since her turn in Oscar And Lucinda in 1997, since which she had been nominated for Oscars and become a hugely recognisable international name. Plus, it was the first film in seven years from Rowan Woods, who had greatly impressed with his debut The Boys. Plus, it was written by Jacquelin Perske, who just the year before had co-created the phenomenal television series Love My Way. It also brought together a tremendous cast besides Blanchett, including the very highly regarded (and suddenly bankable, thanks to The Matrix, The Lord Of The Rings and V For Vendetta) Hugo Weaving, Sam Neill, Martin Henderson, who had been missing for a long time, and Noni Hazlehurst, who turned in a furious performance that shocked many young Australians who had only ever know her from Play School and her television show with ex-husband John Jarratt Better Homes And Gardens.

Tracy (Blanchett) is a recovering junkie, living at home with her mother Janelle (Hazlehurst) and amputee brother Ray (Henderson). She is a manager at a video store, trying to get her life together and working on securing a loan to go into partnership with the owner of the video store in order that they can expand into internet and online gaming next door. Tracy is also emotionally supporting Lionel (Weaving), the gay junkie ex of Janelle, who is contemplating going clean as he is cut off by his lover and dealer Brad (Neill.) Suddenly, Tracy's ex Jonny (Dustin Nguyen) appears, back from Vancouver, sporting a flashy suit. Jonny was a big reason Tracy was doing drugs, and is held responsible by Janelle for the accident that cost Ray part of his leg, but Tracy's love dies hard.

Ray and Jonny get a deal together to make some fast cash, and when Tracy's loan application falls through, despite the fact that she has told both her business partner and her mother that everything is going to be fine, she becomes a part of it. But when everything falls apart she manages to dig deep inside herself and find the courage and belief in herself that has always been there but muddied by her dependence on heroin to bring about happiness. (Ok, that sounds like a really cheesy ending, but it's totally not. I swear.)

The more I think about and remember the film, the more impressed I am with it. I wasn't overly impressed with Nguyen's performance, and I thought Henderson was merely fine, but otherwise the performances were stupendous across the board. Blanchett pulled off her usual incredible thing, but with a depth of character she is often not given. Weaving was ridiculously, painfully good, playing the pathetic junkie with a talent we all knew he had (he has turned in riveting performances before) but still so violent in its intensity as to be dumbfounding. Hazlehurst gives us probably her greatest ever performance (though I'm very, very light on her earlier work - it was better than her equally lauded performance in Candy the following year, if only because the material she had to work with here was better, I think.)

Woods guides them all perfectly, giving a beautiful setting for them to truly excercise Perske's terrific script. Cut wonderfully by Alexandre de Franceschi and John Scott, with Sam Petty's always flawless sound and Nathan Larson's original music that used to kind of irritate me (possibly due to overexposure) but has grown on me a lot to the point where hearing strains of his theme now can cause a deep emotional reaction. And dammit, hearing either the kids or Sarah Blasko singing that cover of Flame Trees can see me in rivers of tears in a second. That scene (anyone who's seen it knows that scene) is mindblowing.

Look, it's not a perfect film. Not in any way. But I think it has improved with age. I think at the time, also, in such a dire time for Australian film, it probably wasn't the right film to be making. Everyone was depressed enough as it was, and throwing a depressing-as-fuck film into the mix was never going to pull us out of it. If it came out this year I think it would have performed somewhat better, though maybe I'm just deluding myself. Little Fish is, however, a good film, even a very good film. If only for the epic performances within it is worth watching. If for noting else than to feel how amazing Cold Chisel covers can be. 4 stars.

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