10 September 2005 | Philby-3
Some little fish get caught, some get clean away
Rowan Woods' previous film, "The Boys" (1997) had a certain detachment as he examined the psychology of the perpetrators of a particularly nasty crime - watching it was like looking at bugs through a microscope, though it did feature a truly brilliant performance by David Wenham. In this film from a script by Jacqueline Perske he takes a warmer and certainly a lighter look at some rather unprepossessing people living in the south-western suburbs of Sydney - specifically Cabramatta.
Tracey is a former heroin addict, clean for the last four years but with a less than perfect credit record, who is trying to buy a share in the video shop she is working in so she can expand into the internet gaming business (hey, isn't that illegal in Australia?). Her friend Lionel, a former football star and ex-boyfriend of her mother's is still an addict. As she tries unsuccessfully to raise money from some almost comically reluctant financiers she become involved in looking after Lionel, who seems to have a rather close relationship with Jockey, a local hoodlum and drug dealer and his sidekick Steve. Her Vietnamese-Australian ex-boyfriend Johnny suddenly arrives on the scene after four years away and is soon involved in a drug deal with her one-legged (and rather stupid) brother Ray. The "Little Fish" of the title turn out to be those little plastic fish than come with soy sauce inside them in East Asian restaurants, recycled to contain amphetamines, but it could equally describe most of the characters.
It's all very complicated and to be honest the plot is a bit of a monkey puzzle I have the feeling there might be a few holes in it - but the film is really about the struggle to climb out of the mire. Some make it, others don't; often those who succeed owe their success to chance, others who fail do so despite every effort. Cate Blanchett as Tracey is as good as she has ever been. You may think she is a little genteel for the role, but blot out your memories of "Elizabeth" and she is just fine. Hugo Weaving as Lionel gives a pretty well definitive portrait of a burnt-out heroin addict. Sam Neil as the ruthless Jockey is a little less suave than usual, though his clothes are tailor made and his car a Jaguar. Noni Hazelhurst is all heart as mother (Heart is her surname) and Dustin Nguyen as Johnny, despite the dodgy accent, gets away with playing a person about 10 years younger than he actually is. Martin Henderson is a wonderful dumb Ray.
Perhaps the most impressive feature of the film is the up-close and personal photography (just about every scene looks like it was done with a hand-held camera) combined with some very imaginative fade-in and fade-out. The result is so atmospheric I almost felt the rain and smelled Hugo's lack of aftershave. More to the point, I felt the characters' moods. It was almost like being inside the movie. I very much liked the other recent Oz movie "Look Both Ways" which I saw two weeks ago. It also featured some innovative techniques, but this is a far more sophisticated piece of work.