Film Review: Fish Tank

Fish Tank has been on my radar ever since I watched Red Road. Mainly because it’s the follow up film by academy award winning director Andrea Arnold, and having enjoyed Red Road, it seemed only logical to witness some more of her creative talents.

Even though they really are stand alone films in their own right, you can tell they have been born from the same mind. Ignoring the overly obvious setting of rough and tough tower block estates, there is a constant style and touch that links them together. Arnold once again managing to portray life realistically and while they aren’t directly connected (most obviously, one is Scottish the other English), I couldn’t help but feel that a subconscious motive behind them is for Fish Tank to look at life within the estate and project it outwards, where as Red Road showed you life looking in from the outside. The principles behind both films seeming to flow and blend together well.

Andrea Arnold - Fish Tank

But ultimately it’s just Arnold that links them together. So, once you’ve made the loose connection by her style you have to ignore it completely. Looking at Fish Tank purely with it’s own independence. And the first thing that struck me was that it seemed too gritty and dirty. I hate to say it but the language was a little too blue and the smell of stale alcohol just a little too strong for me to really feel comfortable. It took a long time to relax into it. And this is a horrible and pathetic admission to make, but I felt my position on the social ladder of life, middle class pomp, just a little too “above” them. They live in a world I don’t know, and in fact, a world I’d be frightened to enter. As shameful as that is.

And it is wrong and shameful that my own self importance, perceived class, removed me so much from the film. Especially as the performances on show deserved more. The leading actress, Katie Jarvis, a real rags to riches story having been plucked, without experience or interest from a local train station, sucks you in and brings to life the leading character Mia, in a way that left me enthralled yet torn. She seems caring and warm and somebody who deserves more from her life, guidance; but by the same token, I constantly thought that she’d be liable to rob me, punch me, or call me a **** without remorse at any given moment. And it’s testament to Javis that she made me feel that way. That she stirred up those emotions and feelings so effortlessly.

Katie Jarvis & Michael Fassbeder - Fish Tank

But beyond just the impressive Jarivs, the real amazement to me was Michael Fassbender. Mainly because, even though it does fall a long way back in his catalogue of film productions, it wasn’t until the credits rolled at the end that I realised I’d just spent 2 hours in his company. I didn’t have a clue. He doesn’t look like the Fassbender who I hated in Frank, didn’t mind in X-Men or forgot was in 12 Years A Slave. And while his character has a huge amount of screen time with Jarvis, and you never feel that he is over shadowing anything. As I said, I spent the whole time thinking he was Conor.

The leading performances in this film are that good that I came away knowing the story of Conor and Mia, not Michael and Katie.

However, once you’ve enjoyed the performances it’s time to struggle with the rest of the film. Especially the plot. Going back a few paragraphs, the world in which everything is set is very gritty and dirty and concrete. It’s hard and nasty and in your face. And it felt like a soap opera without the shackles of a TV watershed to cramp it’s language. Everything that happens just seems a little bit hyper realistic. Turned up to 11. Not because it needed to, but because it wanted to. Why speak when shouting is just as good? It felt aggressive at times for no other reason than purely for the sake of making you feel uneasy and scared of it; and that’s not how I really want a film to treat me.

And this uneasy tension between us very nearly boiled over as the film progressed into its final conclusions with a sequence of events that culminate in some actions that border on the unwatchable due to the emotions they create within. They hint towards behaviours that no matter who you are, you cannot accept and while, thankfully, they never fully mature, even the suggestion was enough to repulse me and very nearly completely withdrawing from the film.

Katie Jarvis - Fish Tank

Sadly though, looking past it’s strikingly horrific and culturally difficult low points, and side stepping the admiration for it’s actors’ turns; at the heart of this film is a series of events that are just too predictable. While you’re never really sure in what order things will happen next, there is a fairly monochrome structure and so you easily guess where it’s going and it will then arrive swearing, drinking and smoking 5, 10, 15 minutes later. And this has meant that I’ve come away not really sure whether I enjoyed it or not.

It kept me predictably interested, but emotionally, it threw me backwards and forwards so much and to such extremes, that they are now my lasting impressions, destroying all good points without care. Red Road worked because while life was arguably just as tough and rude and unpleasant, you never felt threatened by it, safe behind the camera lens. Fish Tank just removes this layer of protection and feels too in your face, too intimidating.

6 out of 10 stars (6 / 10)

Posted on by 5WC in Film First Edition

Comments are closed.