Movie Review: Fish Tank

Mia is always running. You would to if you lived a life like her’s. Her life is hard. That might sound vague, but her plight is emphasized in almost unbearably vivid detail in “Fish Tank.”

“Fish Tank” is the next chapter in what I consider a British New Wave. Along with last year’s “In the Loop,” “An Education,” and “Moon” as well as 2008′s “In Bruges,” “Fish Tank” is part of a series of incredibly well crafted (and entertaining) British films.
Of all these films, “Fish Tank” might just be the darkest. It is a gritty look at lower class life. With its shaky camera, “Fish Tank” at times feels like a documentary. The film follows the life of Mia (Katie Jarvis). Mia is a 15-year-old living on the outskirts of London with a tendency to get in trouble. On the outside, she’s tough and reckless. On the inside, she’s vulnerable and dreams of being a dancer.
Any hope Mia might have is crushed by her physically abusive and unloving mother. Her mother’s new boyfriend, Connor (Michael Fassbender), is kind and caring. Mia soon falls in love with him, and begins a doomed affair with him.
“Fish Tank” introduces its audience to a world it is likely not at all familiar with it. By the end, you’ll feel like you lived it. As mentioned, the constantly shaking camera makes the film feel like a documentary. When Mia sits, the camera sits. When Mia runs, it runs with her, shaking all the way, as if someone is directly following her every step.
The film’s cinematography is just one thing to show that this film is alive. Not to mention, the constantly changing colors brilliantly match each shot and never get in the way of the story (this was a big problem for me in “A Single Man”). Then there is the music. The rap songs help make this film the most vibrant and energetic social drama I’ve seen since “Do the Right Thing.”
It is amazing to say that I’m saying that a film like “Fish Tank,” full of emotionally devastating abuse, could also be classified as energetic. It is a testament to the power of Mia, that she can still bring life and energy into such horrible circumstances.
Speaking of Mia, she’s an interesting character to talk about. She reminds me in a way of a young, more destitute Madame Bovary for the 21st century. She seems to base her life in the idea of fantasy so much that she blends fantasy and reality. This can be seen in her affair with Connor. She might think she’s finding true love, but actually, in a twisted way, she’s really searching for a father figure in her life. Or maybe she just needs an intelligent and caring male to counteract the poor female role model in her life.
Newcomer Katie Jarvis is electrifying in her debut performance. She has no problem going down to the hardboiled truth of Mia’s character. I was also thoroughly impressed by Michael Fassbender. Fassbender wowed me in his brief performance in “Inglourious Basterds” and in “Fish Tank” he brings that same tough yet relaxed geniality to make Connor a character who is hard to hate. Fassbender is blossoming into something of a great actor, and I’m expecting much from him in the years to come.
“Fish Tank” is a great movie because it takes a good story and uses a distinct directorial style to make it great. Director Andrea Arnold has a love of the surrounding world. She’ll often focus on different objects around a room to directly reveal character.
Arnold also focuses heavily on the surroundings, like a giant wind turbine that lies right outside her apartment. It creates a direct contrast between two very different worlds within such close distance. Then there is the film’s beautiful last image. I won’t give it away, but I will say is that it nearly encapsulates the entire film in just one shot. Even in a film that seems to deny the idea that people can live out their wildest fantasies, this one shot shows that in a hard world love still exists if you actually try and find it. The title itself, meanwhile, shows how everyone is trapped into their own personal fish tank of an existence. Only the strongest can swim away.
Even though it’s only February, “Fish Tank” is the first great film to be released in 2010, and one that will most definitely be a top 10 contender come December.