Richard Keddie, Vincent Sheehan, Liz Watts
Devesh Chetty, Kirk D'Amico, Robert Mullis, Barrie M Osborne, Marion Pilowsky
Film Finance Corporation
Mullis Capital Independent
New South Wales Film and Television Office
Porchlight Films Pty Ltd
First Look Home entertainment (2005) (USA) (DVD)
First Look Pictures Releasing (2005) (UK) (theatrical)
First Look Pictures Releasing (2005) (USA) (theatrical)
Moonlight Films (2005) (Netherlands) (theatrical)
Myriad Pictures (2005) (Australia) (theatrical)
John Scott, Alexandre de Franceschi
Cate Blanchett: Tracy Heart
Hugo Weaving: Lionel Dawson
Noni Hazlehurst: Janelle Heart
Martin Henderson: Ray Heart
Dustin Nguyen: Jonny
Sam Neill: Brad
08/09/2005 : Australia
Opening: $453,990 AUD
Total: $3660,513 AUD
Ranked 50 in Australian Film Box Office Figures as of 09/02/2006.
2006 A.F.I AWARDS
Best Lead Actor: Hugo Weaving
Best Lead Actress: Cate Blanchett
Best Supporting Actress: Noni Hazlehurst
Best Editing: Alexandre de Franceschi
Best Sound: Sam Petty, Peter Grace, Robert Sullivan, Yulia Akerholt
2006 IF Awards
Best Actor: Hugo Weaving
Best Actress: Cate Blanchett
Best Sound: Sam Petty
Little Fish follows Tracy Heart on her journey to become a business owner and the lengths she will go to achieve her dreams. During this time she is constantly confronted by her past, through a school reunion, her bond with ex football star Lionel Dawson, the reemergence of her ex boyfriend Jonny and most notably her previous drug addiction.
The commercial success of Greg McLean's Wolf Creek, as well as, the critical praise for Little Fish, The Proposition and Look Both Ways ensured the year 2005 would be long regarded as a turning point for the local film industry. The resurgence of the industry was due, in part, to Australian filmmaker's successful interpretations of typically Hollywood genres, in particular Wolf Creek, the outback horror and The Proposition, the Australian western. Ironically Little Fish, Rowan Woods second feature film, dominated industry award ceremonies and critic's best of lists, as a quintessential Australian drama, set in Sydney's western suburb, Cabramatta.
The cast of Little Fish is arguably one of the greatest ensembles to ever grace an Australian film. Oscar Award winner Cate Blanchett is brilliant as Tracy and Hugo Weaving, unrecognisable at first, gives the performance of his illustrious career. Noni Hazlehurst is highly believable as Tracy's mum Janelle, Sam Neill is menacing as Brad and Martin Henderson brings subtle humour and warmth to the part of Ray. Despite the performances of all involved, the strength of Little Fish is its fabulous screenplay, written by Jacqueline Perske. Covering the themes of love, family and consequence, Perske's screenplay slowly unravels, revealing each of the protagonist pasts and their strong bonds to each other. The screenplay is strengthened by Woods' attention to detail and the casts' unique interpretation of the text, making the film a true success due to the sum of all parts.
The plot, covering around seven days, depicts a very short period of a much greater story. Perske has avoided the cliches of many traditional Hollywood films where all threads need to be tied by the end of the film. Instead opting to supply pieces of the puzzle and allowing the audience to complete the jigsaw. Throughout the film little slices of information are supplied but Perske's insistence on keeping the audience guessing manages to propel the story and create an unusual tension. References to water are obvious throughout Little Fish, and for the first third of the film, audiences can feel like they are treading water, hoping desperately Tracy will prevail but conscious she may be dragged under by her past.
Perske's use of ambiguity is clear from the outset and present in almost all of the relationships within the film. When we are first introduced to Lionel, Tracey lies back suggestively on his lounge, giggling as he mimes a song on the stereo, their love for each other is obvious. It appears that Tracy and Lionel are lovers until Perske's first twist is revealed and we realise, Lionel is in fact Tracy's estranged step father. In the same scene Brad is introduced, seemingly as Lionel's drug dealer. When Lionel passionately kisses Brad another aspect of the story unravels.
Lionel's relationship with Janelle, Tracy's mother, is also vague. Lionel has been trying to contact Janelle with no success. When Janelle arrives home to find Lionel standing in her driveway, we are given a small insight into their relationship. Lionel has obvious warmth for Janelle, reminiscing about cabarets they used to enjoy together, Janelle replies by stating "you gave my daughter heroin". It is possible to conclude Lionel and Janelle were lovers, but earlier scenes depicting Lionel with Brad, create a contradiction.
The emergence of Jonny creates further intrigue, Tracy and Jonny's body language suggest they have history, the nature of their relationships slowly reveals itself over the following scenes. In a particularly poignant scene Janelle confronts Ray, Tracey and Jonny over a birthday dinner for Ray. Dragging up past events which lead to Ray's amputated leg and Tracy's addiction, the scene provides a few more clues to the past trials and tribulations of the Heart family.
Rowan Woods' direction compliments Perske's screenplay with the use of visual clues to piece together the protagonists past. An early flashback of Tracy at the beach hints at Lionel's involvement with the Heart family without completing the story absolute. Pictures of Lionel in his football days hint at Lionel's past and allows the audience to consider the journey to his current condition. Little Fish is Woods second feature film after his critically acclaimed, gritty and controversial film The Boys. The setting for The Boys was suburban Sydney; with a strong emphasis on the Sprague household. In Little Fish Woods ventures into the heart of Cabramatta, the multi cultural, west Sydney suburb he spent much of his childhood. Woods' attention to detail is extraordinary, but he effectively portrays the suburb as the setting of the film, instead of making Cabramatta another theme.
Little Fish relies heavily on audience interpretation in relation to the back story of the film. Just as the screenplay has opted to gradually unravel, the pacing of the film is deliberately slowed down to complement the screenplay. The use of photos as a motif throughout the film, highlight the theme of the ever present past. The use of water as a motif represents the protagonists' constant struggle to keep their heads above water. With effective lighting, unique camera angles and award winning editing by Alexandre de Franceschi and John Scott, the team behind Little Fish has created the perfect atmosphere for their cast to shine. The cast and their ability to realise Woods' vision has been critically lauded.
Cate Blanchett is an Oscar Award winner and one of Australia's most successful imports. Blanchett won an AFI award and IF award for her portrayal of Tracy in the film. With Tracy, Blanchett has created a memorable character who is desperately trying to escape her past and move forward to the future. Blanchett is at times understated and at times passionate, but she never resorts to over the top theatrics which could have easily disrupted the flow of the film. Blanchett's extroverted moments in the film are brilliant, in particular her scene in the bank when her second application is rejected, but the strength of Blanchett's acting is most profound in her more introverted scenes. Blanchett's subtle use of movement, her change of pace and her glances away from the action show a vulnerable side of Tracy's character which is essential in the development of the narrative. Very rarely do we see a character in Tracy's position, a drug addict through rehabilitation and moving forward, but Blanchett's performance is thoroughly convincing.
In direct contrast Hugo Weaving's character Lionel is a drug addict trying to overcome his addiction, a period often depicted in cinema. After roles in two of Hollywood's largest franchises the Matrix and the Lord of the Rings trilogies, Weaving returned to Australia to create one of his most memorable characters. Lionel's suffering is difficult viewing but instead of focusing on his heroin cravings, the pain of remorse and regret dominate his performance. Although the common trait of selfishness, a by product of his addiction, is present, his overwhelming love for the Heart family is painfully apparent.
The character of Janelle Heart is played faultlessly by Noni Hazlehurst and earned her an AFI Award for best supporting actress. Love and fear dominate Hazlehurst's performance; she loves her children unquestionably despite their failings but is constantly fearful they may slide back into old habits. Hazlehurst's scenes are some of the most powerful in the film. Whilst watching Janelle discover Tracy is at the train station, it is impossible not to sympathise with her, feeling her pain as her fears are realised.
Martin Henderson plays the most quintessential Australian part of the film as Ray, Janelle's son and Tracy's brother. Still involved in the drug scene and particularly naive, Henderson manages to create a character that is humorous and likeable, despite his obvious flaws. Ray's mate Jonny played by Dustin Nguyen, is also Tracy's ex boyfriend. Their relationship becomes an alternative line of narrative to the crime in which Ray and Jonny plan to commit. Jonny arrives as a self assured stock market type, after family imposed exile in Vancouver. Nguyen's character displays confidence, intelligence and optimism despite the fact he is painfully aware of his facade.
Sam Neill's Brad is one of the most terrifying characters depicted in Australian cinema in recent years. Neill's understated approach to the character, a drug dealer, pedophile and Lionel's lover, creates an unforgettable villain. His menace is enhanced not by flamboyance but more so mystery. It seems appropriate to conclude discussion about performances with Sam Neill, as his performance, understated, mysterious and thought provoking, compliments the style of the film perfectly.
Categorising the film into a particular genre is, as always, a difficult proposition. Crime is present throughout the film, but only acts as a minor line of narrative. Love is highly present throughout the film, but not in a traditional sense. Tracy and Jonny's romance follows the traditions of a "Classical Hollywood narrative", but Lionel and Tracy's love for each other is given more weight. The film is about heroin, but the film follows the protagonists into a period of their lives which is rarely seen in drug related films. The influence of a female screenwriter is obvious, particularly with the integral parts of Tracy and Janelle, but 'Little Fish' is not necessarily a 'women's film'.
It is fair to assume Woods made the film with all the aforementioned genres in mind, but Little Fish is primarily a drama, without the 'over the top' moments of a melodrama. The film boasts incredible dialogue between its fantastic cast a number of tense scenes. In a particularly poignant scene Woods follows Tracy into a hall, where Vietnamese schoolchildren are singing the classic Australian song "Flame Trees" by Cold Chisel. Watching Tracy grappling with her conscience, looking at the bathroom door with heroin in her pocket, is one of the most powerful scenes you are likely to see in modern cinema.
For Little Fish Rowans Woods brought an all star cast back to Australia to shoot a truly remarkable film. Woods maintained his vision for the film and used his stars fantastically. Little Fish finds an honoured place amongst other fantastic Australian drama's released in recent years, most notably, Sommersault and Lantana. Where Hollywood dramas often rely heavily on theatrics to propel their story, in true Australian fashion Little Fish focuses intimately on the story, relying heavily on the performances and the screenplay.
Released in Australia on September the 8th, 2005 and taking over $453,000 AUD in its first week, Little Fish eventually made a modest $3,660,513 at the Australian box office. In comparison Wolf Creek released on November the 3rd, made $325,742 in its first week before making a whopping $1, 223,000 in its second week. Wolf Creek went on to become the highest grossing Australian film of the year, making $5,766,600, Little Fish became the second highest grossing Australian film of the year.
Woods has a number of projects in the pipeline which should inspire anticipation amongst film goers. After requiring the services of Blanchett for Little Fish, Woods has cast another of Australia's most successful imports, Toni Collette, to star in an adaptation of the novel "Isabelle the Navigator", written by Australian author Luke Davies. Woods will also return to his science fiction roots, directing the "Rowan of Rin" trilogy. In the meantime Australian audiences will benefit from watching Little Fish on DVD where multiple viewings will reveal more of the story each time.
At the risk of failing miserably, I choose to approach my assignment a little differently. My initial research of the film was nil, except of course what I had learnt about Little Fish from friends, who had seen the film, and the odd review I had heard on the radio or read in the newspaper. If I was to trust these sources I could easily assume two things; the cast is fantastic and the plot is confusing. I felt it imperative that I view the film, without the views of others buzzing through my head, so I could draw my own conclusions. I watched the film and found it intense viewing, conjuring the same feelings I felt when I initially watched Rowan Woods first film, The Boys. Although I found the performances fantastic, the story was what really drew me in. As a fan of mysterious films, I found the screenplay intriguing; it had me guessing from start to finish. I decided the screenplay would be the main focus of my critical essay and so I therefore went ahead and wrote it.
Once the essay was written and my argument firmly in place I started to fulfill my other obligations in relation to the assignment. Virtually all of my research was done through the internet accessing popular film sites for reviews and searching Proquest for interviews and associated articles. I purchased the Little Fish DVD and listened to Rowan Woods audio commentary as well as interviews with Woods, screenwriter Jacqueline Perske and the cast including Blanchett, Neill, Weaving and Hazlehurst.
Most reviews echoed similar sentiments to earlier feedback I had received about the film. Reviewers were predominantly impressed with the performances of all involved, in particular Blanchett and Weaving. Despite overwhelmingly positive feedback regarding the cast, a number of reviews felt the plot had a number of flaws. I could understand their sentiments, but still regarded the screenplay as the most compelling aspect of the film. Woods commentary of the film complimented my arguments; he was obviously very impressed with the screenplay as well. With this reassurance I left the review as is and used extra information, regarding box office figures and screening to complete the assignment.
Andrew L.Urban interviews Rowan Woods and Noni Hazlehurst: http://www.urbancinefile.com.au/home/view.asp?a=10793&s=Interviews
Christine Sams interviews Cate Blanchett for "The Age".
"The world of Cabramatta (a Sydney suburb notorious for its heroin trade) in the '90s and now, for someone who has an ongoing substance abuse problem, is as foreign to me as playing Katherine Hepburn or some southern psychic in Georgia,". Cate Blanchett.
Sams, Christine. "Little Fish." The Age online. 17/06/2005. Accessed 10/02/2006 www.theage.com.au
David Stratton interviews Rowan Woods and Sam Neill on "At the Movies".
"And the intersections of several characters in her life at that time create this life and death situation which, you know, it seems Shakespearean". Rowan Woods.
"If it's a love scene, how do you shoot a love scene in a cliched way? This is how you do it. So let's do it THAT way because it's more interesting than THIS way". Sam Neill.
Stratton, David. "Little Fish Interviews" At the Movies online. 07/09/2006. Accessed 10/02/2006 www.abc.net.au/atthemovies/
Rowan Woods, Jacqueline Perske, Hugo Weaving, Cate Blanchett, Sam Neill, Noni Hazlehurst interviewed for Little Fish DVD; special features.
"I've always had this desire to see a suburban girl have a life Shakespearean". Jacqueline Perske.
Little Fish. Dir. by Rowan Woods. DVD. Porchlight Films, 2005.
Reviews by Andrew Urban and Louise Keller: http://www.urbancinefile.com.au/home/view.asp?a=10775&s=Reviews
Empire Online, review by an anonymous writer.
"While it's a small film in narrative scope, Woods gets powerfully emotional performances from his stellar cast."
"Little Fish Review" Empire Magazine Online. 15/09/2005. Accessed 10/02/2006 www.empireonline.com.au
Triple J Online, review by Megan Spencer.
"Little Fish is an intimate, compelling film where confronting subject matter and social realism is elevated to a higher, more poetic plane through the deft use of an atmospheric, artistic style."
Spencer, Megan. "Little Fish Review" Triple J Online. 09/09/2005. Accessed 10/02/2006. http://www.abc.net.au/triplej/review/film/s1457201.htm
Variety Magazine, reviewed by Russell Edwards
"Blanchett's name is the hook for international markets, but pic's slow, intense pacing is likely to lead more to fest and art house engagements than to wider biz. However, B.O. on September release in Oz is likely to be strong".
Edwards, Russell. "Little Fish Review." Variety Magazine. Vol.399, Iss. 10 (2005): 20. Full Text. ProQuest. ProQuest Information and Learning Company. Murdoch University Library, Australia. 02 Feb. 2006 http://www.umi.com/proquest/
"Sunshine fades to Black", Little Fish reviewed by Michael Fitzgerald.
"As he showed with The Boys, director Rowan Woods has a virtuoso's ability to tighten the screws of tension and paranoia, and for its first half, Little Fish leaves the viewer with the sensation of watching events as they're filmed by a surveillance camera. But then, perhaps because Jacqueline Perske's writing isn't tight enough, the air starts to rush out of the movie".
Fitzgerald, Michael. "Sunshine fades to black." Time International. Iss. 35 (2005): 62. Full Text. ProQuest. ProQuest Information and Learning Company. Murdoch University Library, Australia. 02 Feb. 2006 http://www.umi.com/proquest/
Due to its relatively recent release and the nature of the film, an Australian drama, Little Fish doesn't have an overwhelming internet presence. The official website www.littlefishmovie.com/ contains a movie preview, cast and crew biographies and a comprehensive selection of reviews. The website is primarily an advertising tool for the film. The Triple J website, http://www.abc.net.au/triplej/review/film/s1457201.htm had a review of the film which was followed by listener's personal reviews. This gives a greater insight into the overall perception of the film, in the wider community. The reviews ranged from overwhelmingly positive, "an absolutely fantastic film and the best Aussie production for years" to the highly critical "you have got to be kidding! I was bored out of my tree".
OTHER INTERNET SOURCES
Australian Film Commission http://www.afc.gov.au
Australian Film Institute www.afi.org.au
Box Office Statistics www.moviemarshall.com/idg-australianfilms.html
Internet Movie Database http://usimdb.com/
The Boys. Dir. Rowan Woods. Perf. David Wenham, Toni Collette, John Polson. Arena Films, 1998.
Little Fish. Dir. Rowan Woods. Perf. Hugo Weaving, Cate Blanchett, Sam Neill. Porchlight Films, 2005.
Look Both Ways. Dir. Sarah Watt. Perf. Justine Clarke, William McInnes, Anthony Hayes. Hibiscus Films, 2005.
The Proposition. Dir. John Hillcoat. Perf. Guy Pearce, Ray Winstone, Emily Watson. Colombia Tristar, 2005.
Wolf Creek. Dir. Greg McLean. Perf. John Jarratt, Nathan Phillips, Cassandra MacGrath. Roadshow Entertainment, 2005.