It’s quite a leap to go from Farscape to Little Fish, but that’s exactly what director Rowan Woods has done thanks to a script by Jacqueline Perske and an ensemble cast featuring some of Australia’s finest actors.
After helming many episodes of the four season science fiction series Farscape, Woods returned to his roots with something a little more low-key and grounded in reality. A friendship with Cate Blanchett proved pivotal, and when the right script came along, they jumped at the chance to work together.
Blanchett plays Tracy, an ex-heroin addict, working in a video store in the Little Saigon district of Sydney. She applies for a business loan to start a new life, but is turned down, throwing her plans into disarray. Her life is full of twisted, tortured relationships: with her brother Ray (Martin Henderson), who lost a leg in a car accident thanks to her ex-boyfriend Jonny (Dustin Nguyen), who himself makes an unexpected return from Vancouver. And with family friend Lionel (Hugo Weaving), a heroin junkie, who is having a secret gay relationship with drug kingpin Bradley (Sam Neill, sporting a strangely comic comb-over hairstyle that somehow makes his character more menacing). Tracy is buffeted by these colliding characters, sending her life spiralling out of control once again. Her only escape is her daily pilgrimage to the swimming pool.
Blanchett is superbly confident as Tracy, comfortable acting in her native accent and delivers a performance that powers through the movie. All around her, the cast are universally flawless; Hugo Weaving, in particular, for cineastes more used to his mannered delivery as Elrond in Lord of the Rings, Agent Smith in The Matrix and V in V for Vendetta will be bowled over by his naturalistic and gritty performance as the ex-rugby star.
Rowan Woods made his name with a low-key drama called The Boys in 1998, and after being sidetracked by science fiction for a couple of years, Little Fishfeels like a return to familiar territory. Woods explores the tensions of a modern, multicultural Australia, and the web of dysfunctional family relationships in Little Fish is like a microcosm of the wider world.
Although slightly let down by its ambiguous ending, Woods’ movie is a gripping, tense drama. It’s beautifully shot by Danny Ruhlmann, who captures a side of Sydney not seen in the tourist brochures. In the last few decades, Australia has seen its film industry develop from a virtual standing start, and it’s thanks to movies like Little Fish, that Australian movie culture has an internationally recognised weight and gravitas.