Little Fish (UK - DVD R2)
Scott McKenzie takes a look at this low budget film starring Cate Blanchett...
Four years ago, Tracy was addicted to heroin, as were her friend Lionel and boyfriend Jonny. Her mother was struggling to keep her twenty-something children alive, never mind hold the family together. Tracy (played by Cate Blanchett) managed to kick the habit and Jonny was forced to move away to Canada. Now, Tracy is working in a video store and has dreams of buying out her boss and expanding the business, but her past comes back to haunt her in more ways than one.
Her previous convictions for credit card fraud are frowned upon by the bank she hopes will give her a business loan and the return of Jonny throws her world upside down. All the while, she is trying to care for Lionel (Hugo Weaving), an ex-football player who is trying to go cold turkey and leave the drugs behind him once and for all now that his drug dealer and sometime lover Bradley ‘The Jockey’ Thompson (Sam Neill) has abandoned him. With no legitimate way of getting the money together that she needs, will Tracy succumb to the forces that are drawing her back to the past?
Little Fish tells the story of a group of people who coasted through their younger years and are now trying to get their lives together when all seemed lost. It would be identifiable as an amateur low budget feature were it not for the cast and director Rowan Woods pulled off the coup of getting the trio of Blanchett, Weaving and Neill together. They all put in strong performances, Weaving most notably playing against his Hollywood roles. His washed-up heroin-addicted football player selling off his memorabilia for his next fix is the exact opposite of the strong, commanding characters he played in the Matrix and Lord of the Rings trilogies.
The always dependable Cate Blanchett is as convincing as ever and comments in the making-of documentary that she was drawn to the role because it allows her to represent a type of character that is under-represented in movies. At the point in her life where the story is told, she has built up a strong façade by keeping her past at a distance. She’s not a sexy babe trying to make it big in a man’s world, she’s just a regular person trying to get by and make something of herself. Her previous difficulties are shown through Weaving’s character as he struggles with withdrawal from heroin and their relationship is reversed. Where Lionel used to be a father figure to her, she’s now showing that she can assert herself and look after him.
The screenplay is believable and at times minimalistic, allowing the actors to show the emotions and reactions on their faces instead of having to spell everything out to the audience. While it would have been so easy to fill the film with clips of Tracy and her friends taking drugs to show their downfall, there are no flashbacks other than to happy times when Tracy was a child. This worked well because most people watching Little Fish are likely to have seen one or more films involving drug addiction and already know what it looks like. Avoiding the flashbacks leaves a little more to the imagination and reinforces Tracy’s desire to leave it all behind her.
Little Fish is a compelling story about the lives of regular people trying to get by and I whole-heartedly recommend it if you’re in the mood for a drama with great performances by world class actors. You know they aren’t doing it for the money here, only for the desire to play characters from a screenplay that is hard-hitting without ever resorting to clichés.
The anamorphic transfer is quite grainy, no doubt reflecting its low budget roots. It is less obvious in some scenes, especially those involving brighter shots but in large sections of black and blue there’s quite a bit of noise. There’s a bit of edge enhancement visible but it’s not too severe and only really becomes dominant in shots where the background is out of focus so it doesn’t detract from the viewing experience. The colour definition is strong though, which works well in a film that mainly focuses on realism but occasionally uses strong reds and blues to represent Tracy’s feelings.
There are three audio tracks available—Dolby 2.0 Stereo, 5.1 and DTS 5.1. I chose the DTS track and in the main I imagine all three are fairly similar. The majority of the soundtrack is made up of background music and dialogue, which is all clean and clear. The only times when I felt the impact of the surround track was during an early scene at a disco when loud music takes over and fills the room. This is a one-off though and the rest of the track is fine but unimpressive.
In the interview with director Rowan Woods, he talks about the genesis of the film and how the initial ideas he had at film school became a motion picture with great performances from a big name cast. Unfortunately, Woods appears to be a rather humourless individual so twenty-four minutes of the same talking head becomes a bit dry. The ‘Making of’ featurette is a little better, editing together interviews with many members of the cast and crew, including the screenwriter Jacqueline Perske who turned Woods’ concept into a female-centred full length screenplay.
The director's commentary touches on some points made in the featurettes and goes into more depth about the performances and the structure of the story. The problem is that while the information is valuable, Woods’ monotone voice makes it a bit of a drag, which is a shame. Luckily he gets the more animated Jacqueline Perske along to join him in commenting on the deleted scenes, which give more back-story and details about the characters and their relationships. At 109 minutes, the feature itself slightly overstays its welcome so, while they were left on the cutting room floor for good reason, the deleted scenes do provide more depth for fans of the film. Of all the extras on the disc, I’d recommend heading to the deleted scenes first. The original theatrical trailer is included to round out the set and for once there are no additional trailers for other Tartan releases.
I imagine it will get overlooked on the shelves of HMV and Blockbuster, but Little Fish is a low budget gem. It may be too slow-paced and uneventful for some, but for those who like their dramas tightly scripted and well-acted, I recommend you give this a go. While there aren’t many laughs to be had, the collection of extras complement the feature well and make this a package worth dipping into your wallet for.
Review by Scott McKenzie
Suitable only for persons of 15 years and over
Release Date: 23rd October 2006
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo English, Dolby Digital 5.1 English, DTS 5.1 English
Extras: Director Commentary, Director Interview, Making of, Deleted Scenes with Commentary, Trailer
Easter Egg: No
Director: Rowan Woods
Cast: Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving, Sam Neill, Martin Henderson, Dustin Nguyen, Joel Tobeck
Length: 109 minutes
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