Feeling happy? Upbeat? Not a care in the world? By the end of Little Fish you won’t. Rather you’ll be digesting the lesson that’s just been dealt out. Life is shit. Get used to it.
Named after the fish-shaped vials of liquid heroin flitting around the drug scene, Rowan Woods’ bleached-out Aussie tale of recovering heroin addicts, rejected bank loans and prosthetic legs even outbleaks professional miserablist Ken Loach, using despair as a carrier bag in which to immerse the audience. Which isn’t to say it’s not realistic. No blemish is left soft-focused: the usually stunning Cate Blanchett becomes feral-like; Hugo Weaving’s bone-bristled junkie is more beard than man; Sam Neill’s Terry Wogan-esque dealer’s rug-u-like barnet doesn’t so much require Head & Shoulders as Shake n’ Vac. And their lives are equally stark.
Not so much following a flowing narrative as the inevitable downward swirl after a pulled plug, they are each caught in their own ever-descending circles, anchored by their past. Tracy becomes entangled in lies after her only course of escape (getting a bank loan for part ownership of the shop she works in) is rejected due to her criminal past; her brother (Martin Henderson) sees dealing as the only way to make a living after losing his leg; ex-football hero Lionel sells his old signed shirts to fund his drug habit (“I’m just a priceless past”). And Tracy’s ex-boyfriend, Jonny... well, no one here gets away clean.
In Little Fish, even the big fish are small and Tracy’s only option of escape, when it comes, is not truly an escape at all. Winner of five Aussie Oscars, this is a prestige picture no doubt, a superb ensemble headed by Blanchett’s mesmeric turn as a strained spirit in search of a fresh start and Weaving’s soul-gnawing portrayal of bottomed-out success. The unseemly sprawl of shattered hope and relentless chewing-the-curb despair only drags itself out of its rampant melancholia during its thriller finale, which can’t save the prior gutter-trawl grimness from feeling worn. But still potent enough to have you hooked.
Powerful and bleak, this study of Aussie heroin addicts never pulls its punches - even if you sometimes wish it would at least sound the bell.