Little Fish

Olivia Cooke and Jack O'Connell

Not to be confused with the 2005 movie of the same name starring Cate Blanchett, Little Fish puts a twist on one of the those big films about two people in love told against a torrid backdrop of war, ditching raging conflict in favour of a global pandemic. In early 2021 this sounds very timely, but the story the film is based on is ten years old. In any case the “torrid backdrop” isn’t the focus here. This is a film for those in love with love.

The meet-cute is bare bones. Emma (Olivia Cooke) meets Jude (Jack O’Connell) on a beach. They stare at each, they smile at each other, they chat to each other, they’re clearly both instantly smitten. It is genuinely cute.

In traditional romantic love story style of the sort that comes in pink covers, he’s a buccaneering individualist, she’s in the caring professions. Photographer/vet – you can work out which is which.

Also in traditional romantic love story – or even Love Story – style, one of them is going to get ill and/or die, the sweeter the love, the deeper the loss.

The second big introduction is to the pandemic – NIA it’s called, Neuro-Inflammatory Affliction, a disease that’s wiping the minds of different people in different ways. Some just get a bit scatty, others forget so completely what they are about that there are bizarre effects – like the marathon runner who simply forgets to stop running. But for the most part NIA’s progress seems to mimic Alzheimer’s, a progressive loss of memory to the point where the identity of the sufferer begins to fall away – we are, to a large extent, our memories.

Emma and Jude in a pet shot
Emma, Jude and a lot of little fish

So of course one of these two lovely people is going to get NIA and the other is going to watch impotently, metaphorically offering up burnt offerings to the gods and reading all the books on the subject in an attempt to keep it at bay. The sufferer, meanwhile, is going to dissemble like crazy, hiding the effects of the disease’s progress via an escalating series of cribs, tricks, cheats and lies

Though Little Fish is interested in the lovers rather than the pandemic, around the edges director Chad Hartigan conjures up a pungent world of disinformation, fear and hysteria, quack cures and weird coalitions of the ignorant. Some of the superficialities are now familiar – people in masks – but most of it is a reminder that Covid-19, while bad, could have been a lot worse.

The other world Hartigan conjures is that of the indie romance – music, tattoos and big moments in small places. Jude asks Emma to marry him in a pet shop, where the two of them are watching the little fish that gives the film its title. It’s a goldfish, a creature not associated with a prodigious memory. A joke, surely, in a film not full of them.

This is a world of shallow-focus photography, which does double duty in suggesting both the warm, fuzzy and “us”-focused nature of the first burst of love, but also the soft edges of memory loss. Keegan DeWitt’s gentle, lilting score works the same territory. Most of the music in Little Fish has the treble turned down.

It’s set in Canada, I think, though the concentration on the two main characters is so tight that we could be almost anywhere. The acting is as it should be: intense and fierce, the more so, perhaps, because the film stands or falls on the performances. Which is another way of saying that not an awful lot happens, and what does happen plays out at its own unhurried pace.

Cooke – about to step into a role in the Game of Thrones sequel House of the Dragon (she’s not a million miles away in looks from Emilia Clarke) – will probably attract some Throners. But, be warned, ye Goths and other dark-clothed lovers of pandemic disaster fare, this is not the movie for you.

The film it’s closest to is another two-hander, Perfect Sense, in which Ewan McGregor and Eva Green played lovers being slowly deprived of one sense after the other. Barely seen and critically cold-shouldered, the 2011 film now seems ahead of its time. Anyone for a pandemic double bill?

Little Fish – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

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The Liability

Jack O'Connell and Tim Roth in The Liability



Starting great but ending merely good, this British thriller full of deadpan laughs is sexy, nasty and features two great actors, Tim Roth and Peter Mullan. It even boasts a starmaking performance by Jack O’Connell as The Liability.


The genre is announced before the opening credits, as a man in a car parked somewhere bleak but lit with the rainbow palette of an acolyte of Christopher Doyle is gruesomely garrotted from the rear passenger seat by someone we never see.


Except it isn’t. The genre we thought it was, I mean. Cut to Adam (Jack O’Connell) a total dipstick who has borrowed his mum’s boyfriend’s C Class Mercedes and is razzing it up and down the road, until he inevitably prangs it, which causes mum’s boyfriend Peter to get very angry with him indeed. Since Mum’s boyfriend is played by Peter Mullan, “very angry” is only scratching the surface of his rage – there is much worse to come.


It’s somewhere around here that we’re again re-introduced to the thriller plot that is going to be the undoing of this otherwise rather fabulous little film – Peter appears to be involved in sex trafficking. Possibly. Who knows? He seems the type.


Cut to the next day and Adam is now driving Roy (Tim Roth), a blank-faced hitman, up the motorway to a job somewhere, this being part of Adam’s payback for the shitload of damage he’s done to Peter’s car. At this point John Wrathall’s screenplay poses a question – is our hitman just a hitman, or is he also a notorious serial killer called the Handyman, news of whose bloody progress is is being delivered by car radio bulletins and shots of newspaper headlines? Why the film is asking this question I really don’t know. For the purposes of jeopardy isn’t a naive kid sitting in a car with a hitman enough already?


But as Adam and Roy motor up the country, the film starts to rev up too, Roy’s deadpan responses to Adam’s incessant witless drivelling making for  beautiful double-act comedy in scene after scene of funny back and forth. “Gizzago” says Adam at one point, wanting to get in on this hitman lark. “Gizzago?” replies Roy, incredulously. Well it made me laugh.


At somewhere around this point, as Adam and Roy pause in the woods to kill someone, an innocent hiker, Talulah Riley, wanders onto the scene and the film starts to wander off it. It’s not her fault. Riley is there to deliver sex by the metric tonne, which she does. But she also signals the full arrival of Plot B (sex trafficking), which seems as unnecessary to the film as the whole hitman-as-Handyman business.


On the upside this is a film about archetypes that locks straight in, and does it unapologetically. The hitman, the liability, the liability’s unbelievably violent stepfather, his slutty mother, the sexy girl – that’s just about everyone who’s in this low-budget affair.


When it’s working at its best The Liability is at its most character-driven. The cast really helps. When you hire people like Mullan or Roth you expect the sort of acting you can stand a spoon up in. 22-year-old O’Connell more than holds his own against this lot and that must mark him out as something special.


But the film is merely good not great. Sadly the whole back end, Riley vengeful in the sex-trafficking storyline, sees the character-driven thrust abandoned. An almost elemental plot centring on an odd-couple double-act – the totally professional hitman and the waste-of-space sidekick – has been junked in favour of a thriller finish.


Mind you, this finale in a waterworks pumphouse does at least allow cinematographer James Friend to get his Christopher Doyle gels back out again, the ones he was using in the car park before the opening credits. So the film ends as it began – looking great, gnarly, thrillerish. But it’s the film sandwiched in between these bookends that is the one to watch.



© Steve Morrissey 2013




The Liability – at Amazon