Fish Tank Movie Review
Mia (Jarvis) is 15 and lives in a council flat with her peroxide-blonde mum Joanne (Wareing) and her sharp-tongued little sister Tyler (Griffiths). Her only interest is in dance, and she's preparing for an audition that she hopes will get her out of her grim Essex life. In the meantime, she finds herself intrigued by Joanne's latest boyfriend, Connor (Fassbender), although she's not sure if it's as a father figure or something else entirely. And she also decides to free an old horse owned by a neighbour (Treadaway).
Besides the horse metaphor and one gratuitous floating balloon shot, Arnold keeps the film grounded in gritty realism, drawing performances that feel so raw and open that no one appears to be acting. At the centre, Jarvis is revelatory, combining anger with hope in a way we rarely see in teen characters. She lets us see past Mia's bravado to what she's thinking, and what we see is complicated and provocative. Opposite her, Fassbender is also excellent, exuding an intoxicating blend of sexuality and parental concern. And Griffiths offers a sardonic comical counterpoint to each scene ("I like you; I'll kill you last").
Robbie Ryan's crisp cinematography combines with Arnold's skilful direction to get us on Mia's side from the start; we experience every scene from her limited perspective, including telling glances and tiny observational details.
Seemingly innocent events bristle with sensuous longing and a foreshadowing of what might come next. This point of view gives the scenes with Fassbender an outrageous charge that's seductive, sweet and more than a little scary.
And a more overtly frightening scene later on is so intense that we're unable to breathe. We have no idea which direction it will go and feel as off-balance as the characters when things take such an unexpected turn. But even this dark dramatic sequence is beautifully balanced by brittle comedy. Arnold's filmmaking has a sharp intelligence that's reminiscent of the Dardenne brothers, but the difference is that she's not merely observing this girl's life: she's letting us feel what it is to be her.