After cleaning up her addiction, Tracy Heart (Cate Blanchett) is treading emotional water and trying to rebuild her relationship with her single mother, Janelle (Noni Hazlehurst), aspiring to upgrade her working life from video shop manager to internet cafe business owner. When her boyfriend Jonny (Dustin Nguyen) returns after four years away, it coincides with other problems in her life, including the desperation of her mother's addicted and banished ex boyfriend Lionel Dawson (Hugo Weaving), who turned Tracy onto drugs, the criminal aspirations of her brother Ray (Martin Henderson) and the multi faceted criminal Bradley Thompson (Sam Neill).
 

4.5
Character study brims with authenticity and poetry.

Little Fish is the second feature by director Rowan Woods who made a huge impression with his first film The Boys (1998), and the first feature by TV screenwriter Jaqueline Perskie (Big Sky, The Secret Lives Of Us). Like The Boys, Little Fish also focuses on family life in a poor Australian environment. This time it is the Sydney suburb of Cabramatta, infamous for its problems with drugs and crime.

Cate Blanchett gives a nuanced, grounded performance as Tracy Heart an ex-heroin addict in her early thirties trying to stay clean, put the past behind her and fulfil her small business dreams of owning the video store in which she works. Noni Hazelhurst (Fran, Monkey Grip) is white hot as matriarch Janelle Heart, a woman marred by the horror of watching her daughter's life almost slip away. The only secret Tracy keeps from her fiercely protective mum is her friendship with Janelle's ex, Lionel, played Hugo Weaving who amazes once again. Once a local hero and now a full-blown heroin addict, things go really pear-shaped for Tracy when she agrees to help Lionel out one last time.

The scenes shared by Weaving and Hazelhurst are frankly stunning. They carry such hurt and heart. But so do the rest of the scenes in Little Fish such is the integrity of the script, performances and direction. Little Fish is very much the sum of its parts, beautiful to look at and listen to, a quietly powerful piece with some suspense thrown in. Like Gregg Araki's recent Mysterious Skin the film's luscious style is used as a powerful counterpoint to the confronting story at hand.

Little Fish brims with authenticity and poetry, which in my book is when cinema works at its best. If anything Woods and his creative team finally put to rest any problems we have with casting 'big name' stars in what is ostensibly a quiet, ordinary story. After a series of high profile 'austere' international film roles it might seem odd to cast Blanchett in a role such as Tracy 'the ex-junkie video clerk'.

When an actor's 'offscreen persona outweighs their onscreen persona' ' as one journalist best put it' there may be a period of 'visual adjustment'. But surely that is our problem as viewers. The actor's job is to convince us in the role they are playing. And the raft of A-listers in this film do just that, as do the lesser known actors in smaller roles (Dustin Ngyuen as Tracy's love interest Johnny is equally on fire on screen). It is an incredibly democratic film on many levels.

Did anyone query whether Colin Friels should play a homeless man in Tom White? Did anyone tell Robert De Niro he wasn't allowed to play an illiterate, broke truck driver in Jacknife because he earned too much money in real life? Didn't think so' And our 'stars' don't just reach the top because they have red-hot agents or do red carpets. Odds are they come up the hard way, putting in the hard yards to learn and hone their craft, not only in film but in theatre and television as well. Little Fish reveals just how good stars Weaving, Blanchett and Sam Neill are as actors, sure enough. Little Fish should hardly be penalised for any misgivings people have before they see the movie. It is a film after all, and a damn good one at that, not a training video for social workers made by a local council.