Saturday, February 13, 2010


There is rarely a more satisfying experience for me as a reviewer then stepping into a theater with next to no knowledge about the film and walking out amazed. I went into Andrea Arnold's Fish Tank aware of only two things, one that the film contains some very difficult to watch moments and that it contains wonderful performances from Michael Fassbender and Katie Jarvis. While both statements are true, Fish Tank unspools to reveal a film of equal parts heartache and beauty.
The plot is simple. Mia, a young, poor girl grows up in a bad part of UK. Her mother is woefully negligent (in part because she's also too young to be a parent-let alone twice over) and Mia is a bit of a wild terror. She gets into fights, drinks, swears and is perpetually truant. She also has ambitions to dance and finds herself vexed by the appearance of an old horse being chained up in a neighbor's backyard. One solitary source of serenity and approval in this harsh world is Connor (Michael Fassbender), her mother's new boyfriend. Of course, this new positive presence in her life can't last because Mia's pull toward Connor smoothly, uncomfortably descends into a mutual, intensely sexual attraction. Of course when the inevitable happens it's only the first of a harsh spiral of truths that show seemingly-mature Mia is only now REALLY starting to grow-up.
As Mia, newcomer Katie Jarvis is convincingly tough and believable as a street-tough kid but at the same time shows the character's intense yearning and vulnerability. It can be startling to see the character go from one polarity to the other but it's effective as well. Equally adept is Fassbender as Connor who is 180 degrees away from his David Niven-esque soldier in Inglourious Basterds. His Connor is a man with great charm and charisma but it quickly becomes clear he's hiding something. When that revelation comes out (and I wouldn't dream of spoiling what it is) the tension that director Anders creates is palpable. It's rare I watch a film and have no idea what a character will do next and with a character like Mia who's emotions run so hot and cold her decisions create genuine suspense and discomfort.

Fish Tank is about the cycles of poverty, abuse and betrayal, but at the same time underlines the enormous reservoirs of personal strength young people can possess. Mia's tempestuous relationship with her family is capable of showing moments of enormous solemnity and beauty and these moments are incredibly moving. This is not to say the film is without flaws. When director/writer Arnold moves away from the naturalistic drama and moves toward the symbolic the filmmaking can be a bit obvious and didactic (the last shot of the film puts the Departed's scurrying rat to shame). However, the virtuosity of the performances and the powerful emotional conflicts on display will leave most viewers breathless.


Gi said...

here here.

El Gigante said...

My favorite comment so far. Don't be embarrassed to write more.