Fish Tank: Review
Director Andrea Arnold works wonders in Fish Tank, an Essex-based kitchen sink drama which shows British film at its best.
It was clear from Red Road, Andrea Arnold’s darkly compulsive tale of surveillance and revenge in Glasgow, that a distinctive new British filmmaker had arrived on the scene.
We need all of these we can get, so praise be that Arnold’s follow-up, Fish Tank, has the same confident signature. The sinuous camerawork of Robbie Ryan prowls around a housing estate, this time in Essex, and the story is a collision course whose precise moment of impact we can’t guess. If this is social realism, it’s a kind with prickly cinematic voltage and no redundant lesson to teach. It’s tremendous.
Fifteen-year-old Mia (newcomer Katie Jarvis) is the film’s heroine, and rarely has a more scowling, stroppy, wilful teenager had the whole forcefield of a movie at her disposal. She lives on insult. “Call me back, you bitch!” may not be the best-chosen words to patch up a blighted friendship; there’s even less love lost between Mia and her single mum (Kierston Wareing), who wants to pack her off into juvenile care.
If Arnold has one great skill, it’s charging up the spaces between her characters – she can put two people in a room and make it seethe. When Irish charmer Connor (Michael Fassbender) walks half-naked into their kitchen for the first time, sex is added to Fish Tank’s miasma of tensions.
Mia falls back on her natural defence mechanism – lippiness – but there’s clearly something between them. She peeks into her mother’s bedroom at night, and pays Connor coy visits at work. His own status in the household is hard to read. Is he protector, predator, or what?
Even by Fassbender’s high standards, this is a spellbinding turn, and the film shifts gears unmistakably whenever it’s around him. Arnold coaxes totally convincing performances from Jarvis, who ably suggests awkwardness and shyness beneath Mia’s keep-off exterior, and Rebecca Griffiths as her younger sister Tyler, a swearing tyke with an amazingly filthy laugh.
There are false notes here and there: a subplot about a local gipsy (Harry Treadaway) and his ailing white horse feels like standard urban fairy tale. But Arnold works wonders almost everywhere in this film: the drip-drop drabness of kitchen-sink drama is stilled, alive, and newly dangerous.
By Tim Robey3 (Telegraph) : 10 Sep 2009