Friday, October 27, 2006

Little Fish (2006)

Little FishAny film starring Cate Blanchett is usually pretty much guaranteed to be a must-see, and with five Australian Film Awards behind it, and a pretty enthusiastic rating on the critics round-up site Rotten Tomatoes, Little Fish seemed like a sure-fire hit.

There's just one fly in the ointment - the British press were consistently luke-warm about the film, despite all those 'Australian oscars'.

Sadly I think the British press got it right. While there's a lot to admire here - the acting in particular - the cliched story of a recovering drug addict trying to do good but getting dragged down by family and friends is all a bit TOO familiar. Familiarity is sometimes OK, but in Little Fish comparisons don't do the film any favours. The biggest fault is that there are just too many characters introduced too quickly, and explanations of their relationships are only hinted at because the director thinks you shouldn't need to spell everything out. The problem is when you've thrown everything except the kitchen sink into the whole 'let's give the characters some back story' angle, but only leave subtle hints as to what those back stories are it all gets very confusing very quickly. Sometimes less is more when trying to give characters afflictions or problems by way of explaining what makes them act the way they do. And in a story this 'thin' adding ridiculous layers of back-story just smacks of desperation in the face of a lack of real story.

The often shaky hand-held camera-work, green-tinged colour, ridiculously long lenses as the film progresses, and deliberately unsettling 'music' all serve to irritate, in a 'Oh the director's sign-posting the fact this is a world cinema indie film dahling' way. It would have been better if he'd tried to give the film a more cohesive narrative structure. And then there's the film's final act - a real mess of a 'climax', and an unsatisfying one too.

Fortunately the world-class acting on display here saves things somewhat. Blanchett is a strong and convincing as she's ever been, playing Tracy, a hard-working, but downtrodden ex-junkie desperately trying not to get sucked back into the nightmare addiction she's escaped. After four years working in a video store she is trying to raise the capital to start her own business, but the world seems set against her. Despite her virtuoso performance she nearly has the film stolen from under her nose by Hugo Weaving playing the part of Lionel, a former football star but now a gay junkie and the 'father figure' for Blanchett's character. It's a million miles away from Matrix and The Lord of the Rings for this actor. In a beautifully crafted performance Weaving has you laughing out loud one minute, and then weeping in sadness the next, with a moving portrayal of a character who's not been strong enough to deal with what life's thrown at him, and has a 'good heart' underneath all the surface problems. Sam Neill too turns in a nice performance as a ruthless (and also gay) gangster who becomes involved with members of Tracy's family.

The transfer is excellent, although as a low-budget film this is not going to be a show-case in many of the big-screen stores. Tartan are pretty reliable in terms of the format of their DVDs and, as with previous releases, they provide a DTS sound-track as well as the usual Dolby Digital one, a low-budget but intelligent interview with the director and a chapter index leaflet that includes a two-page article on the film. Also included are a director's commentary (dull, dull, dull!) and a 20-minute 'Making of' that features all the main cast and manages to just about tread a thin line between being a fascinating documentary on one side and gushing , self-indulgent marketing fluff on the other. It's not great, but it'll do! There are also a few short deleted scenes with an optional director and writer commentary, as well as a trailer for the film.

Despite the extra's, the excellent cast, and the professional Tartan presentation, the film is ultimately a disappointment. Worth a rental, but having seen it it's hard to imagine anybody wanting to see it again. If 'real' working-class life is your thing, then Gary Oldman's Nil by Mouth did this sort of thing so much better a few years ago.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hugo Weaving's performance took my breath away.