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Labeled a "psychological thriller" and promoted with a trailer promising a dark tale that'll have you on the edge of your seat, LITTLE FISH (2005) only qualifies as such for five or ten minutes near the end, and even then just barely.
The rest of the time it's simply the story of a reformed heroin addict named Tracy (Cate Blanchett) who dreams of buying a video store in the "Little Saigon" district near Sydney, Australia where she's worked for the past four years, but she can't get a bank loan to save her life. She's also busy trying to help her surrogate father Lionel (Hugo Weaving), a former national rugby hero, who is fighting his own losing battle against heroin now that his dealer-slash-lover Brad (Sam Neill) has retired from the drug underworld. But Brad's underling Steve (Joel Tobeck) secretly keeps the business going on his own and eventually enters into a big drug deal with Tracy's ne'er-do-well brother Ray (Martin Henderson) and her ex-lover Jonny (Dustin Nguyen), who has just returned after spending four years in Canada trying to get his drug-addled life back together. Jonny's return complicates Tracy's already messed-up life, especially when he persuades her to "borrow" money from the video store where she works and invest it in the drug deal, which will supposedly pay off enough for her to buy it at last. But as usual in stories such as this, such a scheme is destined to fail.
Cate Blanchett gives a casual and restrained performance as Tracy and is a likable main character whose struggle to better herself keeps this very leisurely-paced film interesting throughout. Hugo Weaving is also very good as the drug-ravaged ex-athlete who maintains a strong fatherly relationship with Tracy long after breaking up with her mother, and it's fun to see him in a role so different from the ones he played in the MATRIX and LORD OF THE RINGS trilogies (Blanchett is also miles away from her "Galadriel" character from RINGS). Sam Neill gives his usual reliable performance, and the rest of the cast is good, especially Noni Hazlehurst as Tracy's long-suffering mother Janelle.
Director Rowan Woods' informal, documentary-style camerawork gives the story a contemplative, dreamlike quality that makes us feel as though we're inside Tracy's head, viewing all the inevitable uncertainties of life from her disoriented point of view. As events spin slowly but surely out of control, this dreamlike quality threatens to turn nightmarish at any point, but never quite does. The brief scenes of tension and suspense near the end of the film as the drug deal goes wrong (as we knew it would) never reach a real crescendo, and the film ends with a frustrating lack of resolution. I didn't exactly feel as though I'd wasted my time watching it, but I certainly expected more of an ending than seeing three of the main characters silently strolling into the ocean at dawn and splashing around for awhile. They seem to be cleansing themselves of the horrid events of the night before, which is nice, but all of the problems that the story has saddled them with thus far still remain and the fade-out comes at least a scene or two too early to satisfy me. So, while I did enjoy watching it to a certain extent, LITTLE FISH left me unfulfilled and wishing that scriptwriter Jacqueline Perske had taken the time to think of an ending.
Added: Wednesday, March 22, 2006
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