Fish Tank

Director    Andrea Arnold
Starring    Michael Fassbender, Katie Jarvis. Kierston Wareing, Charlotte Collins
Release    TBC (US) 11 SEP (UK)    Certificate 15
4 stars


11th September 2009

As the summer closes its doors on blockbuster season, at last we can look forward to the smaller and more intelligent films that the year has to offer. With the award circuits casting their eyes on the wealth of talent on and behind the screen, what better place to start than with Andrea Arnold's Fish Tank. It has already gone down a storm at notable festivals and it's for good reason.

Here we have a tale of 15 year-old school drop-out Mia (Jarvis), living as part of a broken family in the flats of an Essex estate. With her tempered mother and even more tempered younger sister, Mia navigates through life mouthing off, spitting venom and usually putting her self in positions that compromise the authority of others.

[gallery]When she's not trying to stand up for the rights of chained-up animals or head-butting kids of her own ilk, she traps herself in her empty flat where others cannot see her performing her own constructed dance routines. Her menial life is further layered by the non-existent interest in her studies and her reputation as a violent trouble-maker.

The family of girls are an interesting watch. We experience their downtrodden view on life through a mother who is past her best, a daughter with intense personal troubles and her younger sister, who provides most of the film's comedy with the worst case of potty mouth you'll hear on screen for quite a while.

Mia's lonely existence is interrupted by the appearance of Connor (Inglourious Basterds' Fassbender). A smooth and kindly new boyfriend of her mother, Connor tries on multiple occasions to strike up a rapport with Mia and each time gets a little bit closer. Over time, the two become further entwined (despite Mia's flaring temper) and Mia finds herself with a person in her life with whom she can willingly be open through her expression. She finds herself communicating with Connor through actions instead of words - language being something she's not exactly adept with.

What we get is a girl dealing with emotions she has trouble giving herself over to, and the sexual awakening of a young girl who is quite bewitched by an older man. The film's deftest moments are ones that involve Mia subtly manifesting her emotions physically; Jarvis, a complete amateur before she was spotted by Arnold having a tiff with her boyfriend in a train station, is quite stunning to watch. Fassbender also plays the creep just the right side of slimy.

Of course, their relationship soon takes a trip down the wrong path and the loyalty between trust and expression is soon broken, leading Mia into a very dark place indeed. The third act can be a gruelling watch, but if anything it provides Mia with a sudden dose of medicine that shows her just what she's capable of without even knowing it.

Fans of kitchen sink cinema from the likes of Loach and Leigh will take this on with open arms. Life is not always a pretty state of affairs and Fish Tank doesn't shy away from showing it. Arnold's superb cinematography is something that needs to be mentioned; as much as it captures the dirt and grime of lower-class existence, it has also been thought out very clearly and beautifully expresses the world and the characters together.

Portrayal of inner-city life can often be one-note, but a cast experienced beyond their years combine with Arnold's no frills direction to make a would-be typical story seem fresh and exciting. Jarvis has been knocking up a storm with her performance and it is all too clear from the get go just how natural an actress she is. Fish Tank isn't one you'll want to watch time and time again, but is one you'll be glad you saw.

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