Little Fish: 'We're no-one, we're nobody'
Tracy (Cate Blanchett), her brother Ray (Martin Henderson) and her boyfriend Jonny (Dustin Nguyen) have driven from Sydney to an isolated farm, to buy a large amount of amphetamines. At the farm, they find Lionel Dawson (Hugo Weaving), dying of heroin overdose. Steve Moss (Joel Tobeck), the seller in the deal, tries to rip them off but Tracy will not give him the money. She tells Moss that killing them will ruin his life and that he must let them go. Summary by Paul Byrnes.
A culminating scene of amazing originality and power in which the film’s theme comes strongly into focus. Tracy convinces Moss that his actions will have terrible consequences for himself. The idea that we must choose, every day, to do the right or the wrong thing, and that we all have to live with those choices, is powerfully brought home.
Little Fish synopsis
Tracy Heart (Cate Blanchett) has been off heroin for four years, when old boyfriend Jonny Nguyen (Dustin Nguyen) comes back to Sydney. Tracy is 32, living with her mum Janelle (Noni Hazelhurst) and working in a video shop in Cabramatta. Her brother Ray (Martin Henderson) sells amphetamines. The only man she has ever loved like a father, ex-rugby league star Lionel Dawson (Hugo Weaving), is hopelessly heroin-addicted. When big-time dealer Brad ‘The Jockey’ Thompson (Sam Neill) decides to retire, the decision has an impact on all their lives.
Little Fish curator's notes
Little Fish arrived, in late 2005, at just the right time, after a couple of lean years in which Australian cinema seemed to have run out of ideas. Rowan Woods and Jacqueline Perske showed what was wrong – the film was intensely moving, dramatic and fresh, but that came out of years of research, including more than 100 hours of video-taped interviews with people just like Tracey Heart and Lionel Dawson. The film was about real people’s lives, in fact, places like Cabramatta, a notorious centre of the heroin trade in western Sydney. Very few Australian filmmakers are interested in the suburbs, as a source for dramatic stories, especially the poorer suburbs that have been transformed by mass migration since the Second World War, but Little Fish shows what we’ve been missing.
Woods grew up with strong links in Sydney’s Asian migrant communities, because both his parents taught English to migrants in the 1960s and ‘70s. In Little Fish he shows Cabramatta as a vibrant community, where heroin is only part of the story. The film is very clear-eyed about the damage the drug is doing, and the grubby politics of the trade, but it’s about much more than heroin. It’s about the choices you make in life, and the consequences. The climax of the film is an amazing scene in which Cate Blanchett convinces a man with a gun that he has a choice about what to do – and that the wrong choice will ruin his life. There’s never really been a scene like it in another Australian film, because guns once drawn tend to get used. It’s a very powerful subtle message, especially for young viewers used to violent resolutions to complex problems.
Notes by Paul Byrnes
This clip shows a night scene in which Tracy (Cate Blanchett) and boyfriend Jonny (Dustin Nguyen) crouch over the body of Lionel (Hugo Weaving). Steve, the dealer (Joel Tobeck), appears and punches Tracy’s brother Ray (Martin Henderson) to the ground, telling them to get the money from the car. Tracy refuses and when Jonny locks the car, Steve draws a gun. Undeterred, Tracy threatens that they will go to the police if Steve takes the money, but if he doesn’t take it, he won’t hear from them again. Anxiously they take the body, get into the car and leave. A low, sustained undercurrent of music supports the rising tension of the clip.
Educational value points
- This climactic scene from Little Fish has all the elements of the crime genre, but unlike many crime films the scene is concluded not by violent action but by non-violent character interaction. At the heart of this scene is the revelation of Tracy’s increased strength and determination as she appeals to the dangerous and desperate dealer ‘to just think’. Unlike many crime films the female character controls the action and determines the outcome.
- Stark lighting and the use of hand-held cameras help to imbue this scene with a heightened sense of reality. The use of flare lenses and stark lighting results in strong contrasts between dark areas and very bright ones, such as when a light flares directly into the camera over the shoulder of one of the characters. These techniques, along with the jerky nature of the filming, create a sense of authenticity.
- The soundtrack helps to maintain the tension in this scene. There are long pauses within the dialogue as both parties assess the situation and Tracy, Jonny and Ray watch Steve with growing concern. A portentous drone-like music score, the sounds of breathing and the background sounds of night insects all merge into an atmospheric background to the sparse exchanges and mounting tension.
- Cate Blanchett’s fine acting skills are demonstrated in this scene from Little Fish, for which she won an AFI Award for Best Lead Actress. Cate Blanchett, a graduate of the National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA), has starred in many films, including Elizabeth (1998), Lord of the Rings (2001, 2002, 2003) and Babel (2006) and, with her husband Andrew Upton, will commence the artistic co-directorship of the Sydney Theatre Company in 2008.
- Scriptwriter Jacqueline Perske was nominated for an AFI award for the screenplay of Little Fish, which benefited from inclusion in the inaugural, and now acclaimed, Aurora script program (NSW Film and Television Office). Perske interviewed people involved in the heroin trade to ensure authenticity in characterisation. She won AFI awards in 2005 and 2006 for the television drama series Love My Way.
- As seen in this clip, director Rowan Woods’s work is characterised by immediacy and focuses on developing tension between actors and authenticity through close, calculated camerawork. Woods’s first film The Boys (1998) won four AFI awards and Little Fish won five. Both films deal with a gritty reality and stress the daily grind of suburban life for people on low incomes, and both explore intimate relationships, violence and crime.
Education notes provided by The Learning Federation and Education Services Australia
It is night time. Crickets are buzzing, and there is drone-like eerie music. Steven stands in the distance.
Tracy What’s happening?
Ray approaches Steven.
Ray I don’t know what’s going on, Steven. I swear to fucking God I don’t know what’s going on.
Steve Hey buddy, partner …
Steve punches Ray.
Ray Hey Jonny, I’m alright, I’m alright.
Steve (to Ray) Fuckin’ moron. (to Jonny and Tracy) You two go and get the money out of the car. Go on!
Tracy No … you can’t have that money.
Ray Trace … shh …
Jonny We know what you’ve done?
Steve What have I done? There’s an old man dead, and his boyfriend’s OD’ed. What have I done? Get the fuckin’ money.
Tracy No … no it’s not your money. And we’re just going to go, alright? We’re just going to take Lionel, OK? Jonny?
Steve Get the money Ray.
Ray Get fucked.
Jonny unlocks the car and Steve pulls a gun
Ray Oh, no, no, no.
Tracy No, no, no, no, no, just think, think.
Steve I need that money …
Tracy If you take our money, we’re going to go to the police.
Ray Come on, you’re married aren’t you?
Steve I need that money.
Tracy What are you going to do? You gonna kill us? I mean, you’d have to kill all of us. Otherwise you’ve fucked your life. It’s gone … your life. We’re just gonna go. We’re gonna take him, and you’ll never hear from us again. Right … (lifts Lionel’s body). We’re no… we’re no-one alright, we’re nobody.
They pile into the car. Steve watches as they drive away.