Little Fish
R2 - United Kingdom - Tartan Video
Review written by and copyright: David Cormack & Noor Razzak (10th December 2006).
The Film

Set in 'Little Saigon' (as compared to, you know the large one, which is actually called Ho Chi Minh City but Little Ho Chi just sounds a bit dirty). "Little Fish" presents us with the story of Tracy Hart (Cate Blanchett), a reformed junkie who's just trying to live her life; but circumstances outside of her control keep trying to drag her back in, which, when you think about it, is just like "Jaws" (1975). Roy Schneider was just trying to live his life too but a giant bloody shark kept messing with him, and just like in "Jaws", people die. Other than that if you really enjoyed "Jaws", it doesn't mean you'll enjoy this film because they are quite different.
Tracy is the manager of a video store in the middle of a miscellaneous Asian suburb (we are told on the back of the DVD that it's 'Little Saigon') going through the drudgery of living, living with a past that includes heroin addiction, credit card fraud and a car crash that left her little brother Ray (Martin Henderson) sans leg. But she's trying to get clean.
Not helping her in her efforts to get clean are her ex-step-dad Lionel Dawson (Hugo Weaving), an ex-Rugby League star and now washed up junkie, her brother Ray, hell bent on pulling of a substantial drug deal and the return of her ex-boyfriend, drug dealer and driver of the car in the abovementioned crash, Jonny (Dustin Nguyen).
Soap-Operiffic you might think and yes, it can descend into the absurd at some parts (New Zealanders in particular will get a right giggle with the out-of-nowhere appearance of Bic Runga) but its honesty and realism that are breath taking.
I won't reveal too much of the plot suffice to say that the ending is suitably bleak without leaving too much of a bitter taste. The acting is superb from everyone.
Not since she played the Elf-Queen in "The Lord of the Rings" films (2001-2003) has Cate Blanchett given such a raw human performance. Watch the little things, when she's just standing around Lionel's house watching him go through the ordeal of detox, see her shift from one leg to the other, it just looks so natural. And also, many have commented on Blanchett's beauty but personally, I've never seen it. Elf ears just didn't do it for me but in this film there is just something absolutely stunningly natural about her (if not a little skinny in the titillating shower scene).
Hugo Weaving delivers what has become my favourite performance in the film, he does a lot of bad s**t but you just can't hate the dude because he's so pathetic and kindly. His representation of Lionel as a washed up sports star clinging to his past for a source of income allowed you forgive him his major indiscretions, like asking Tracy to 'score' some heroin for him when she's trying to go clean, or for engaging in one of the most revolting on-screen kisses ever. "Brokeback Mountain" (2005) may have been about a couple of pillow-biting cowboys but at least they were young and pretty. "Little Fish" presents us with the Sam Neil/Hugo Weaving kiss, where "Jurassic Park" (1993) meets "The Matrix" (1999) in an unholy alliance. So with the Australian actors covered it leaves us with 3 New Zealanders and an American.
The New Zealanders all hold their own in the company of the 2 Aussie heavyweights, Martin Henderson in particular gives a great performance, reminiscent of that scene where as little Stuey Neilson from the long running soap opera "Shortland Street" (1992-present) when he tried to break up Lionel and Kirsty's wedding, his portrayal of Ray the slightly simple brother of Tracey was awesome whilst Neill's drug lord Brad was sinister without becoming a caricature. Joel Tobeck, without being startling was solid, which brings us to Mr. Dustin Nguyen and his portrayal of Jonny Nguyen. Awesomely, Dustin was in "3 Ninjas Kick Back" (1994), not so awesomely he can't do an Australian accent to save himself. They try to get around this by having had his character live in Canada for a few years but nevertheless his accent jumps backwards and forwards from poor Canadian to worst bastardised Australian you've ever heard ever! Even worse than that time you watched a movie made in the 70's and they got some English actor to play an Australian and he just talked like a retard yeah worse than that.
Other than Dustin's performance the only real negative which stood out for me was the use of some ethnic-Asian musical instrument at the beginning of some scenes, which just really pissed me off.
Those of the 'eye-candy' persuasion may find this movie intensely slow and boring but it's the simmering tension burning just below the surface which grabbed me and kept me hooked, without their being a huge explosive climax it did satisfy my thirst for something.
All in all this is the best Australian film I've seen since "Gallipoli" (1981), and that was rubbish. In fact all things said and done this is quite possibly the best thing to come out of Australia ever.

Video

Presented in the film's original theatrical ratio of 1.85:1 widescreen this anamorphic is quite good but does leave some room for improvement. For the most part the image remains sharp and is free of any damage and dirt as most recently produced films should but I did notice some compression artefacts, some scenes which featured dim lighting suffered from compression noise which at times is rather annoying, I also noticed that film grain is prominent. As a result the black levels were a little on the murky side and not as bold and deep as most recent film transfers tend to be. Aside form this problem I did not find any other major issues with this otherwise average transfer.

Audio

Three audio tracks are included all of which are in English, one in DTS 5.1, one in Dolby Digital 5.1 and one in Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround. For the purposes of this review I chose to view the film with its DTS track. My first thought going into this film is that it's not really a film that could benefit from a DTS track, and as it turns out I'm right. This is a dramatic piece with little surround action going on, as a result the rear speakers are occasionally quite with the odd bit of ambient sound and music coming from those channels. The sub woofer channel is all but mute as the audio is predominantly focused on the front speakers. The dialogue is clear and distortion free, music is rendered and mixed well into the 5.1 space and these are all that this non-aggressive track manages to deliver.
This film does not feature any optional subtitles.

Extras

Tartan has include a collection of extras that include an audio commentary, an interview, a featurette, deleted scenes, as well as the film's original theatrical trailer. Below is a closer look at these supplements.

First up we have a feature-length audio commentary by the film's director Rowan Woods. Woods spends his time commenting on the narrative and the motivations of characters, he seems preoccupied in telling us the ins and outs of a character so we as an audience don't have to question anything onscreen…this is my interpretation of what this commentary appears to be like, I could be mistaken and Woods could just be totally enthusiastic about the story and characters. He rarely deviates from that, occasionally telling us about a location or how a particular scene was shot, but overall I found it a little boring and fast-forwarded a few chapters here and there trying to find something else other than story and character to listen to…but my endeavour was for nothing. Perhaps it would have been a good idea to have included some other cast and crew along with Woods on this track?

Next is an exclusive Interview with director Rowan Woods that runs for 23 minutes 50 seconds and he covers a vast array of topics from the film's conception to talking about the casting of the film, he also sheds light on various production issues. Overall this was an informative track but in all honesty Woods is a rather dull and boring person to listen to.

Next up is a "Making-Of" featurette that covers four aspects of the film and runs for a total of 20 minutes 18 seconds, the feature covers the following:

- "Beginnings", here the cast and crew talk about the script and the character challenges that it possessed that attracted these actors to the film.
- "Research", takes a look at the research that went into playing these characters with the keywords 'accuracy' and 'realistically' not forgotten. They intricately researched refugees, amputees and drug addiction among other things.
- "Challenge", takes a look at the director and what its like to work for him.
- "Flame Trees", this takes a look at the scene in which Tracy walks into a room filled with the singing children and what connection it has to her adolescence.

Following that are a collection of 5 deleted scenes that include optional audio commentary by the director Rowan Woods and screenwriter Jacqueline Perske, who tell us where these scene would have taken place and why they were cut from the final film. The scenes included here are:

- "Girls' Toilets" which runs for 58 seconds, sees Tracy waiting for the toilet and confronting a girl.
- "Jonny Comes To The Video Shop" runs for 1 minute 58 seconds and sees Jonny visiting Tracy, they have a conversation about wanting to rent DVDs when the underlying narrative is that they want to get back together.
- "Janelle Meets The Jockey's Wife" runs for 1 minute 22 seconds, the Jockey's wife, Denise (Linda Cooper) recognises Janelle and they have a brief chat.
- "Moss Meets Jonny And Ray" runs for 1 minute 19 seconds, Jonny and Ray are told were the drug supply is coming from.
- "Nup Nup Nope" runs for 18 seconds and in it Tracy is not interested in what Jonny and Ray have to say, this comes after she's found out the lie that Jonny told about being a stock broker.

Also include is the film's original theatrical trailer which runs for 2 minutes 12 seconds.

Rounding out the extras is a 2-panel booklet with an essay by Jason Wood.

Overall

The Film: A Video: B Audio: B Extras: B Overall: B+

 


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