Published Mar 01, 2006There are little niggling details in Little Fish that remind you of its obviousness. There's the fact that the lead, Tracy Heart (Cate Blanchett), has the dead-end job held by all indie victims, and has a shady past with narcotics addiction to outrun. Furthermore, her brother, Ray (Martin Henderson), is the usual loser who's trapped in the addict's life, and her mother, Janelle (Noni Hazelhurst), who's caught between fear and resentment of her children's will to fuck up.
But although it walks on well-trod indie terrain, this Australian feature manages for extended periods to make you forget its limits by making the space inside as nuanced as possible. There is, of course, Hugo Weaving, who gives a career-best performance as an ex-footballer turned hopeless junkie, but there's also an elaboration of the characters' feelings that goes beyond the perfunctory.
The grey areas of the various well-meaning characters who make disastrous choices, including returning boyfriend Johnny (Dustin Nguyen), who hides his criminal dealings by posing as a stockbroker, are explored beyond the limits of the genre. And Hazelhurst walks off with her scenes as the defensive, cheated mother, who's all shouting and twisted expressions.
Though the film ends with a thriller-ish climax that doesn't feel natural, it comes back with a pretty good coda, which is a decent way of describing the film's triumph over its limitations. Just when you think it's going to crash-land in mediocrity, it pulls up with a high note you're not expecting. And it gets extra points for the sight of Sam Neill as a crime lord in a ludicrous striped shirt. (Equinoxe)