Review by Jack Foley
ANDREA Arnold is rapidly emerging as a director to rival the likes of Mike Leigh and Ken Loach.
Fish Tank, her follow-up to Red Road, is another gritty slice of British life that offers a painfully real and unflinching look at life on an Essex high-rise estate.
The story unfolds from the point of view of Mia (Katie Jarvis), a lippy teenager with a penchant for dancing, who feels isolated from girls her own age and neglected by her distant mum (Kierston Wareing).
Her life begins to change, however, when her mum brings home an enigmatic stranger named Connor (Michael Fassbender) who makes more time for her than she’s accustomed to, and by an unlikely friendship with a teenage traveller who also takes a shine to her plucky charms.
Arnold’s film makes for uncomfortable viewing throughout but is notable for the quality of its performances and it’s resolutely downbeat attitude.
There is humour, but it’s couched in bad language, awkward situations and the threat of repercussion.
Mia’s journey is a tough one that’s often difficult to condone, although such is the turbulent nature of her existence (more than life), that she’s forced to fend for herself despite being ill-equipped to cope with the magnitude of her situation.
Jarvis, for her part, is breathtakingly authentic in the central role… imbuing Mia with a brazen, tough-talking street cred that’s offset by a vulnerability and uncertainty that’s only rarely given the opportunity to peek through.
Her scenes with the typically excellent Fassbender are filled with an uneasy sexual tension that eventually give rise to the film’s first truly heart-in-mouth moment as Connor gives in to a drunken desire to have sex with the under-age teen.
It pre-empts the second: as Mia takes ‘revenge’ in heart-stopping fashion.
Viewers will be gripped, while not necessarily feeling comfortable with what’s unfolding on-screen.
Fish Tank is rife with taboo-baiting scenarios such as children swearing, under-age sex and exploitation that is almost certain to offend the mild-mannered – and they may well have a point.
Arnold doesn’t completely distance herself from the accusation that she’s revelling in the exploitation too… particularly in the aforementioned sex scene that feels lit to eroticise the encounter and give it a more cinematic feel.
She also lingers a little too long at certain points, just as she did with her debut, Red Road, making the viewer feel grubby for being privy to what’s on show.
But there’s no denying the power of the film to shock, or to hold you in its vice-like grip for the duration of its running time no matter how depressingly real it feels.
As such, Fish Tank is a film to begrudgingly admire, even though it’s difficult to whole-heartedly recommend given the way it makes you feel both during and after it has uttered its last word.
Running time: 2hrs 4mins
UK DVD & Blu-ray Release: January 25, 2010