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Right out of the water
Chris_Docker29 June 2009
"All my films have started with an image," says director Andrea Arnold. "It's usually quite a strong image and it seems to come from nowhere. I don't understand the image at first or what it means, but I want to know more about it so I start exploring it, try and understand it and what it means. This is how I always start writing." What does the image of a fish tank conjure up for you? On the inside longing to look out, is fifteen-year-old Mia. Trapped in a housing estate. Trapped in a single parent family. Trapped by people around her she can't respect. Trapped in herself. For being fifteen. She has her own inner world, fighting to manifest itself . Fortified by cigarettes and alcohol she can kick in the door of the empty nearby flat. A bare floor. Her CD player. Practice her moves. A better dancer than those kids on the block she just nutted.

Mia is quite content to carve out her own double life, f*ck you very much! Never mind she gets caught and nearly comes to grief trying to steal a horse. And social workers don't scare her. But mom's new boyfriend – that could be a pain! A real spanner in the works. Especially when he's so annoyingly nice.

Under Andrea Arnold's hand, life on this inner city concrete backwater is suddenly very alive. Banalities become beautiful. Like sunlight through cracked glass. Vibrant, gritty and riveting, but in a way that entertains powerfully. As pulsating and funny as Trainspotting but without the yuck factor. Its momentum is overpowering. We never know what is going to come out of Mia's mouth or where events will lead. Each jaw-dropping new scene surprises yet seems the result of inexorable momentum. As if that wasn't enough, the story mercifully avoids kitchen-sink drama, excessive violence, drugs, getting pregnant, grand larceny, car crashes and all the other cliché-ridden devices to which cinema-goers are usually subjected. Tightly controlled, Fish Tank attacks with a potent and thought-provoking arsenal of story-telling.

Andrea Arnold proved she could do hard-hitting realism with her award-winning debut, Red Road. Here she excels her earlier efforts but still imbibes many of the verité approaches and senses of discipline that have filtered down from the Dogme and Advance Party movements. Her 'strong initial image,' or lack of subservience to more traditional methodology, maybe reminds of the devotion to experimental, avant-garde cinema taken by artists-turned-filmmakers such as Steve McQueen (Hunger) or theme-over-story technicians such as Duane Hopkins (Better Things). Michael Fassbender, who took reality to new heights as Bobby Sands in Hunger, here plays the mystifying and warmly charismatic Connor (Mum's boyfriend).

Arnold didn't allow actors to read the script beforehand. They were given their scenes only a few days before filming. For the part of Mia, she chooses a complete unknown with zero experience. Arnold spotted Katie Jarvis at a train station after drawing a blank with casting agencies. "She was on one platform arguing with her boyfriend on another platform, giving him grief." However the performance is achieved, Jarvis is electrifying. If Arnold wanted a 'real' person for the role, this seventeen-year-old takes over the screen with raw adolescent power. Says Arnold, "I wanted a girl who would not have to act, could just be herself." Fish Tank will lift you out of your seat and on an unstoppable flight, ricocheting against confines of circumstance and imploding a dysfunctional family with its head of hormonal steam. Laugh, cry, hold on tight. You will need to. I could almost taste the vodka, as Mia goes through her Mum's dressing table drawers, bottle in hand. I wish all British films were this good.
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An exhilarating dance of liberation
howard.schumann28 March 2010
The poet Rumi said, "A rose's rarest essence lives in the thorn." The thorn is in full evidence in Andrea Arnold's compellingly honest second feature Fish Tank, the story of a fifteen year-old girl's struggle for self respect after having "grown up absurd" in the London projects. Fish Tank, a film that is overflowing with life, works on many levels – as a look into squalid economic and social conditions in small town Britain, as a warning to those who act impulsively and without self-control, and as a coming-of-age story that allows us to experience a genuine sense of character growth. Winner of the Jury Prize at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival, the film features an astounding performance from first-time actress Katie Jarvis, a 17-year-old who was discovered by the director while having an argument with her boyfriend on an Essex train station platform.

Set in a bleak housing project in a working class London suburb, fifteen-year-old Mia is an angry, isolated but vulnerable teen who lives with her boozy mom (Koerston Wareing) and little sister Tyler (an adorable Rebecca Griffiths). Mia has no friends and is dogged by a mean-spirited mother who makes Mo'Nique in Precious look like Mother Teresa. Filled with barely controlled rage, Mia seems uncertain as to whether she is looking for a fight or for sex. She goes from head-butting a rival on the playground to struggling to free a half-starved horse tied up in a junkyard while cozying up to the horse's owner Billy (Harry Treadway), a gentle 19-year-old who seems genuinely interested.

Dreaming of becoming a dancer, Mia breaks into an abandoned apartment and practices her hip-hop dance routines alone to borrowed CDs of pop music including California Dreaming, the only time when she can feel good about herself. Mia's first taste of something resembling kindness happens when her mother brings home a sexy, shirtless Irish lover named Connor (Michael Fassbender) who works as a security guard Fassbender's performance oscillates between the charming and the shady and we do not know who is real and who is pretend and where it will lead. Mia has more than a passing interest in him, revealed by her deep glances and facial expressions.

When Connor lends Mia his camera to film her dancing in preparation for an audition, she uses it to spy on Connor and her mom making love. One of the loveliest scenes is when Connor carries a drunken Mia from the living room and puts her to bed, gently taking off her clothes while Mia, pretending to be asleep, sneaks an occasional peak and is obviously enjoying the moment. Although Connor's interest in Mia appears innocent, from the time Mia cuts her foot on a family fishing trip and Connor gives her a piggy back ride to the car, tension gradually builds until it explodes in a seduction that is not only inappropriate but has serious consequences.

Fish Tank is a strong and unpredictable film because Mia is a strong (though flawed) character who refuses to allow her miserable circumstances to control her life. Arnold uses the fierce slang of the streets, overt sexual encounters, and gritty hand-held camera-work to tell an authentic story of adolescence that in lesser hands might have recycled genre clichés, provided a falsely uplifting message, or offered a sentimentalized view of poverty. That the film opens the door long enough to provide a breath of fresh air once again tells us that life can be governed by what is possible rather than what is reasonable and Fish Tank, instead of becoming another sordid study of pathology, becomes an exhilarating dance of liberation.
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Staggering picture
Stampsfightclub27 September 2009
Friendless and unloved Mia (Jarvis) dreams of becoming a dancer and when her mum's new boyfriend arrives on the scene, everything changes for the teenager.

Fish tank is an exceptional artistic creation, based on the purity of Andrea Arnold's script and appreciative direction whilst a debuting Katie Jarvis excels as the troubled isolated teenager, and what a feature this is.

British cinema is some of the most dramatic and flinching cinema in the world. From Trainspotting to This is England there are always issues of realism and points to convey and with this 2009 appraised release we see more hard drama.

The opening sequence follows Mia around the streets, slurring and shouting abuse at anyone in her radar and the coarse dialogue and minimal amount of sympathy is staggering. As if you had been slapped, this will instantly startle you into realizing the type of environment and lifestyle Mia is living in. The language will give Pulp Fiction a run for its money.

Added as an attempt to justify the rural scene of Britain, Arnold gets it spot on as everything flows with little adjustment required. Everything is as it should be because everything has been so carefully planned, in particular the character development which will have many shedding a tear or two.

Katie Jarvis' cold and unappreciative style is spot on for the protagonist and as the film goes through hard fights with families and spending time isolated in a deserted flat, we see the emotional desire of Mia. The ambition of becoming a dancer is exceptionally well produced, owing to the fact that the background is effectively established. The hard family life Mia is living inspires her to find a way out and her dancing is her motive to break free. This really does work up a treat with twists turns, ups and downs and a staggering climax that adds extra spice to the picture.

At only 15 the central character certainly has a controversial agenda set for her. From sleeping with random strangers to drinking anything dangerous, Mia seems unfazed. Seeing her younger sister drinking beer with her mother in the next room will have mouths dropping.

Thanks to this straight forward no messing attitude the plot can move forward and tell the audience of what real life entails and the cultural state we are living in at the moment.

Some British films go out of their way to preach, such as This is England and Brassed off and whilst that isn't a bad quality, the enriching style of this film makes it flow and add extra drama continuously.

The scene setting shots are exquisite, as if made from a Skins episode without the teen angst. The scene in the car is excellent and not to forget this film boasts an exceptional soundtrack that fits the mood as well as 2007's Hallam Foe.
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A step beyond the kitchen sink
dave-sturm5 February 2010
As an American who used to be a fan of British "kitchen sink" drama I can say this film not only eclipsed those films, it eclipsed that whole genre, which was about poverty-stricken males who vented their rage against whoever crossed their path, usually females. "Fish Tank" turns all that inside out. This is "grrrrrl" kitchen sink.

Katie Jarvis cannot get enough kudos for her performance as a teenager called Mia. She's angry at the world. She fits in nowhere. Her mother is an advanced-age party animal who resents Mia for reminding her she's a mom.

Mia's poor. In the U.S., she would live in the projects. Here, it's called council flats.

The plot is fairly simple ... at first. Mia falls in love with her mother's studly boyfriend. He knows she lusts after him. She knows ... The movie is not really about the outcome of these lustful/familial issues as it is about how Mia will overcome/survive them. The movie goes in unpredictable directions.

One wonderful observation about this film is the economy of scenes. Every scene counts. An American version would have included at least one music video. Here, no BS. Every scene counts.

And the movie is about survival. Kids can survive bad backgrounds. We root for Mia all the way to the end.

Mike Leigh and Ken Loach, say hi to Andrea Arnold.
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She's 16. It's her time.
CountZero31318 August 2010
Warning: Spoilers
Sixteen is not a good age for horses. And fifteen is proving equally difficult for Mia. Fifteen going on 50, Mia lives an isolated, disaffected life. A school drop-out, labelled weird and smelly by her peers, she is neglected by her single-parent mother and converses at a bawl with her younger sister, who is 8 going on 40. Mia haunts the high-rise she calls home, sneaking alcohol and ciggies where she can get them. Her only pleasure is dance, which she practices solo in an upstairs derelict flat. Something has to change, and the catalyst proves to be Mum's new boyfriend. Both creepy and charming in the manner of David from An Education, the boyfriend seems to take Mia seriously. Perhaps too seriously.

Fassbender excels as the charismatic interloper. He is always the smartest - and best-looking - guy in the room, without rubbing your nose in it. When he does lose control, we unfortunately cannot view his reaction because he is only seen in silhouette. Having seen him in Hunger and Inglorious Basterds, he clearly has chameleon-like abilities.

The film moves along a tad too slowly, teasing out the will-they-won't-they relationship between Mia and the boyfriend. Once that is resolved the pace becomes frantic, and the consequences that follow are harrowing.

The British underclass seems to be Arnold's setting of choice. I am not convinced she is at home here, or even that she has spent much time amongst the people she loves to represent on screen. Mia's younger sister, especially, seems archetypical - a can of beer in one hand, a ciggie in the other, expletives falling freely from her mouth, she does not seem to be anything other than a Daily Mail reader's portrait of Britain's feral kids. Mia, also, seems to spend 24/7 in a rage. A more tempered view, even a spot of gallows's humour, would make this arena more believable. There is a bit of a sneer here from the writer-director that is distasteful. I am also sceptical about the Katie Jarvis hype - she does well, but there is nothing in the role to suggest a trained actress could not have handled it. Of course, casting a trained actress would not have generated so much press as the fighting-with-her-boyfriend-at-the-platform story....

All that is forgiven, however, for one sequence that is among the most viscerally compelling I have ever seen on screen. It takes place when Mia is at her lowest ebb, and decides on an action that is less than half-thought out. It is completely understandable given all that has gone before, but connotes Jamie Bulger, Soham, and a host of other unspeakable acts from the cultural memory. Shot verite style, raw and unforgiving, the sequence is a masterclass in how to put an audience through an emotional wringer. The building rhythm of a little girl going up and down on a scooter. A ferocious splash in the ocean. An eternity before re-surfacing. Even the memory of it has me sweating from the palms. Brave, sublime filmmaking.

There are other small moments - three generations of women dancing, a horse spied from a road - that suggest a mature, accomplished style is evolving in Arnold. Wasp was well-executed. Red Road I just found incredulous. Fish Tank has subtlety and bombast, not always in the right mix, but courageously attempted. I will come back to Arnold. Hopefully, one day she will turn her scorn on the tax-dodging upper class who are equally Britain's trial and shame.
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Oh, Mia
down-emily28 April 2011
Warning: Spoilers
Watching this movie felt like a painful, yet necessary experience. This is coming from someone who nearly loved the movie. But it's true, no matter what you think about it, Fish Tank is not easy to watch, at times. I'm not saying it's particularly gritty, but it just rings too close to home to ignore. We deal with this image every day, we see these kids, wasting their lives and their talents between grey walls, staring into space emptily, trying to get away from some shitty family and we see that shitty family, living in a piling mess of mediocrity. And after we see this, we try to run away quickly, cover our eyes and pick a comforting view again.

Fish Tank is a love or hate movie, I've come to realize. I loved it, but my roommate for example, hated it. She hated the fact that no character was redeemable in any way and that the plot went nowhere. But most of all, she hated the feeling the movie gave her, of total and complete alienation.

Funny thing, that's what I loved about the movie. The atmosphere, as bleak and desolate as it was, made me appreciate a great deal of small things this movie subtly hints at, such as sisterhood, the beauty of nature, car rides, horses and empty apartments. It sounds strange, but the movie actually painted a bright image, a very bright image of pain.

It's not dark and hopeless, it's just staggering in its hope, which makes it all the more painful. All throughout this movie, each character seems to strive towards something. It can be meaningless and stupid to us, but to them, it's everything. It doesn't matter why they strive. The fact that their attempts all crumble into a jaded sense of hopelessness is of greater impact. Because it doesn't start out with hopelessness and it doesn't end with hopelessness. It's the crushing feeling in between that takes you to a new emotional level. It's the middle of the movie that shows you what real despair can feel like. And to me it felt like a muffled shout. As if Mia was trying to scream, but someone had shoved silence in her mouth. From the outside, this movie can be about Mia's journey towards a new life, not better, but still different. But on the inside, it can be about the end of Mia's journey into herself.

I think it's very important to understand that Mia never wanted a lover in Connor. Sure, she thought about him that way and she had an obvious crush on him, but she's fifteen, she's allowed to confuse feelings and be attracted to handsome, older men. But Mia really started liking Connor when he showed kindness and attention. She never wanted to be another girlfriend, she wanted to be someone important in his life, because she wasn't important to anyone in general. She thought she'd found solace in him and that he would take her away from everything. It's the childish illusion of escape through someone else. It's the disappointment when she discovers he's run away that makes this character so solid for me. Mia is not angry he ran off after sex. And even when she finds out he'd lied all that time and he had another life with his wife and child, she doesn't act like the other woman, betrayed by a lover. She just feels let down. She allowed herself to hope and she got nothing in return. Disappointing children is one of the worst things adults can do. And Connor does just that, making Mia feel like a small child again.

I see a striking parallelism between her and his young daughter. She takes Connor's daughter in a fit of rage, but she discovers they're both just as fragile. And Mia hates being fragile. She quietly hates the fact that Connor saw her as an attractive girl first and only later as a kid. But I suspect she also hates herself for having caused this shift in the first place, for having led Connor, through her somewhat innocent flirtations, to see her first in a sexual manner and second, as a friend. But any guilt she might feel she directs at him, for putting her in an impossible position. It's at this point that I understood Connor's failure to be a father figure had become her failure to be a daughter. She feels so disconnected to her mother that all she can do as she leaves her home is to share a last dance with her. She's become a woman in that horrible sense of the word, forcing her innocence and inexperience to become weapons and playing on the fact that her status will always depend on her sexuality (and this is cleverly hinted at in the audition scene).

Despite all of this, Mia is still a strong character. She refuses to get naked, refuses to be beaten down, refuses to give up dancing, refuses to let herself get drowned in her mother's world. It's always annoying when teenagers pick 'No' as their favourite word. But in this case, her blatant rejection of everyone and everything is not a bratty act of self-sufficiency, it's a desperate cry for acceptance, for a 'Yes'. In the end, what's sad is that she is proved right, that rejection would have saved her some unnecessary pain. But the last scene manages to turn this grim conclusion into a double-edged sword. Rejection would have saved her the trouble, but acceptance is still another form of rejection. By accepting to move on, she rejects her old life, she rejects her mother and she rejects becoming another 'problem kid' in a correctional facility (because that's what would have happened, had she gone further with her kidnapping). So, if we take a closer look, are rejection and acceptance much different? No, they both require each other for either one to be effective.
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Dirty, honest, sad, lonely but strangely uplifting...
kennyevans19 May 2009
Warning: Spoilers
I just watched this in the Grand Lumiere theatre at Cannes FF, a brilliant experience and a fantastic film! What struck me immediately was the use of natural light in this film. It really had that feeling that you were there and there were none of the typical Hollywood looks to people and sets. It had a very British feel, very much in the vein of Loach's Kes.

having discovered the story behind Jarvis the female lead, it makes the whole performance more astonishing and remarkable. The angry teenager has never been done more convincingly in my opinion, even though my daughter can at times be a close second! There must be young hopefuls in drama schools around the country literally gutted that they have devoted their young lives and untold money to this art but been trounced by an absolute beginner in a role she was obviously made for, whether she knew it or not.

The environment was nasty, you could smell the urine in the corridors, feel the poverty amongst the residents and imagine the boredom of the children. One thing that did occur to me at the start of this film was that Mia wasn't great at dancing. I first thought that if this was a film about how dancing would save her, she would either need to get good quickly or it would be a serious fail.

The male lead, Connor (Fassbender) appears early on as another of Mia's mothers' 'pulls' from the local pub or club. The sexual tension is evident from the start but it doesn't stop Mia from rifling his wallet for money within minutes of meeting him! The mother is stereotypically perfect, the lush who drinks to excess yet tries in vain to preserve her looks with botox and yards of makeup and bleach. It's not clear what she does but suffice to say, not very much, particularly in the parenting department.

Finally we have Sophie, Mias sister. For me she was the comic relief, raising the film above total hopelessness and depression with her funny comments, observations and innocent (ish) take on things. It's hard to imagine the words were put in her mouth as they seem so natural. Whilst in Cannes watching this film it was evident that much of the dialogue went over the audiences head. When we heard the (obligatory staff) dog was called Tennants, we laughed out loud, but we laughed alone! The film just seemed to tick along effortlessly. The scenes with Connor and Mia where bursting with tension and the inevitable coupling just a matter of time. However there were times, for instance the spanking scene with Connor in the bedroom, where it seemed that Mia had experienced something similar and it had adversely affected her. It wasn't clear whether Connor represented an abusive father figure who she couldn't help but fall for or whether she was just a curious teenager, having seen him and her mother having sex through the door one night.

Very difficult to find fault with this film, even if you were looking. The performances were believable, the camera work although almost exclusively hand-held was not jarring and just helped convey the realness of the piece. Lens flares, exposure issues, focus etc, all leant to the genuine feel and put you right there. Even the ending rounded up the film perfectly and I'm glad she wasn't going to win any dancing competitions and get a job in the West End! Great achievement, surely the Palm D'or must belong to Andrea Arnold this year for a brilliantly portrayed glimpse of life as an East End teenager in London and for such a little amount of money! (£2m)
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Bleak and Harsh
Chirpy_Chaffinch30 October 2009
At first I wasn't sure what to make of this movie. Having watched "Red Road" by Andrea Arnold, I needed to watch Fishtank. It wasn't quite as good as Red Road but somehow it had something that mesmerised me. The movie tells of a 15 year old girl living in a rather socially deprived area of Britain who is passionate about dancing. Her mother is a drunk and brings home a new boyfriend one day.

Right from the start there are scenes that are hard to take. These scenes felt quite real for me, maybe thanks to the Director or the acting. There is not much of a storyline other than that the girl gets involved with her mother's boyfriend and everything gets even worse after that.

I thought that Michael Fassbender's performance was brilliant. He seems to be star in the making.

This movie makes difficult watching because of the harshness of the lives that are depicted here.
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Impacting, gritty and very well made even if it is a little bit longer than the material can bear
bob the moo20 February 2010
Considering how much positive word of mouth it got, Fish Tank came and went pretty sharpish in most cinemas – even those in a larger city such as where I live. This was a shame as it meant I had to keep an eye out to eventually catch the film. Set on a council estate things are typically grim and within the first few minutes of the film we are treated to sudden violence and extreme language – all seemingly par for the course rather than being something special that we are witnessing. In this world lives Mia, a 15 year old who lives with a younger sister and a mother who appears to be not much older than her. She gets in fights and practises dancing by herself in an abandoned flat near her own. Her life appears to change for the better when her mother gets a new boyfriend who is friendly, good fun and is not put off by the sudden aggression that is the signature of life in the family home.

Writer/director Arnold quite impressed me with Wasp a few years ago and she stayed in my memory thanks partly to her shabby treatment at the Oscars (where, as the winner of her category, she had to receive the award in the aisle and do her speech from there – no stage for her), however Fish Tank she stays in my mind on the basis of her film-making ability. Fish Tank is not a perfect film but there is a lot to praise it for. Social-realism is nothing new but Arnold really hits the nail on the head from the start and delivers a simple slice of life that is played in the silences as much as it is in dialogue. There is a downside to this and it is one that most viewers will struggle to ignore – the running time. At two hours the film is just about 20 minutes or so longer than it can bear and, in all the silences, there are frequent areas that feel like dips.

This is a minor thing though because the silences depend on the quality of the direction and of the performances – both of which are excellent. Arnold's use of the camera is great – not only in terms of framing shots but also in terms of movement as this is not a static one shot type of film. The best example of what I mean can be seen in the scene where Mia shows off her dancing for Connor, the camera is close to convey the small room to the audience but it is also delivered with such tension that you can feel what is happening as much as dread it happening. Of course the performances are key in making this type of thing work and everyone is great. In particular Jarvis is brilliantly convincing – most people can do the accent and the swagger but she captures the heart of the character, letting the viewer see it even while keeping it below layer after layer of defence mechanism. She is by far the star of the film and she makes it look easy. Wareing, Fassbender and a few others are all good in support but it is always support.

The plot of the film is slight in a way but at the same time with the direction and the performances as good as they are there is always something going on and, as much as I would have liked it a little shorter, I would be at a loss to say what to cut out to make it that way. Fish Tank ends up as a very engaging and gritty drama thanks to Arnold's direction and Jarvis' very strong performance, it mostly avoids cliché and predictable plotting and the cold grey atmosphere of the whole film makes for a distinctive product. A great British film and very well worth seeing – how BAFTA managed to miss Arnold and Jarvis this year is a mystery to me.
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Another Grim & Gritty Parable From England
druid333-213 March 2010
If you think England is only good for turning out glossy, romantic films adapted from their classic novels,guess again. England has long become a staple for some grim,gritty,edgy stories of the darker side of the human condition (with an emphasis on the working class---I guess they're channeling the Charles Dickens within them). Recent films such as 'Nil By Mouth',and 'Ratcatcher' have cemented this reputation. Now add Andrea Arnold's equally harrowing tale of existential despair, 'Fish Tank'. The story centers on Mia,a scrappy 15 year old girl,played with gusto by Kate Jarvis. Mia has an attitude problem,a short fuse,and has no problem solving adverse issues with her fists (evidant by an altercation in the film's opening with another girl,where Mia head butts her,giving the other girl a bloody nose),or her mouth (she has no problem cussing out anyone who crosses her path,including her Mother & little sister,who also boast of filthy mouths). Mia's big dream is to become a big time Hip Hop dancer & is always practicing her dance moves. Things take a turn for Mia's worse when her mom brings home a new boyfriend (Michael Fassbinder),who has less than wholesome designs for young Mia. Along the way,Mia attempts to make friends with an older boy who is in the process of restoring an automobile. As with other girl's her age,Mia experiments with the usual attractions:alcohol,drugs,sex,etc. All of this makes for a film that is not always easy to watch,but easy to admire for it's bravura. Andrea Arnold ('Red Road'and several made for British television projects)writes & directs this kitchen sink view of the British working class. Prepare yourself to get kicked in the stomach for 123 minutes. Not rated by the MPAA,this film contains pervasive strong language,an outburst of violence,flashes of nudity & sexual situation,including abhorrent adult behaviour involving a minor. Not for the little ones.
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Much more than a stereotypical kitchen sink drama
nqure12 December 2009
Warning: Spoilers
Like Arnold's first long feature 'Red Road', 'Fish Tank' is a much more emotionally complex film than its apparent setting – a council estate in Essex- and subject matter initially suggests. Both films contain an element of mystery and a revelation which makes us reassess the characters and their motives.

Instead, 'Fish Tank' confers nobility, like the mangy horse chained to a rock,upon a stereotype, one much mocked by the likes of the comedienne Catherine Tate. Just because Mia appears not 'bovvered', does not mean this vulnerable outsider possesses real human depth.

Mia's tragedy is that she is isolated, a girl who acts tough but has a clear need for human connection and warmth of any sorts (hence her compassion for the chained horse) which her self-absorbed mother cannot offer. Her isolation increases after she falls out with a girlfriend, a betrayal which perhaps prefigures a later one in the film, that leaves her emotionally bereft.

Into her life, steps Connor, warm, attractive & sexy. He cradles her when she is asleep and their connection develops on a visit to the countryside, a pastoral interlude. Like the fish they catch, Mia suffocates in her loveless environment (like Bresson's Mouchette though that film is shot through a religious prism).

Mia places her trust in Connor, as in her shy visit to his workplace, and naively associates sex with intimacy after witnessing her mother & Connor sleeping together. She does form an emotional bond with a local Gypsy lad, but appears confused. (Towelhead, the new film by Alan Ball, covers a similar theme though from the view of a young Arab-American girl brought up in a restricted environment)

The erotic tension generated by Mia & Connor's relationship is palpable as well as a growing sense of menace and of things slowly unraveling. However, I think when Connor & Mia finally sleep with each other, the feeling one gets is that the emotional bond which exists between them has been transgressed. The film is an ironic reversal of 'Red Road', where Jackie & Clyde's relationship changed after they slept together, which led to an emotional resolution. Here, Mia & Connor's encounter leads to a rupture.

In the final Act, the film does become melodramatic, possessing the unpredictable tension & energy of a Dardenne film (The Child), but, by then, Arnold has convinced you with her characters and the depiction of their world.

From then on, the film becomes a rites of passage, where Mia learns bitter disappointment but also forgiveness (the final dance with her mother to a rap song 'Life's A Bitch').

Arnold's cinematographic approach is to 'find a distinctive image' from which the story unfolds. As in 'Red Road', the use of lighting is original, for instance how street lights illuminate Mia in her bedroom or the fateful night when she dances in front of Connor, whose weakness sees him exploit her.

I do agree that the final image of the floating balloon was weak, a bit of a let-down like the canary flying around the living room in 'Red Road', but, like Edith in 'Ghost World', the only way for Mia to survive or outgrow her surroundings is to leave the estate. (Like Mia, Edith's close friendship with the mature Seymour takes an inappropriate turn when they sleep together, another bond transgressed by the wrong step).

I look forward to seeing Arnold's next film. The dilemma facing her is whether to take a radical departure and do something completely different or continue filming stories in a similar milieu. Although 'Red Road' & 'Fish Tank' share a similar setting, both are distinctive and original films. 'Red Road' is probably the more accessible in terms of plot & emotion as 'Fish Tank' covers emotions that are extremely complex and ambiguous: Why does Connor feel suddenly so possessive when Mia asks him for money for her & her Gypsy friend at his workplace? In fact, why does Mia bring her Gypsy friend to his workplace in the first place? Did she do it to taunt/provoke Connor? The implied sexual rivalry between mother & daughter (The incident where Joanne orders a half naked Mia to get dressed whilst Connor sits watching). It is a film shrouded in ambiguity which eventually leads to its fateful encounter and final revelation.
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Take a fishing trip
C-Younkin13 January 2010
Andrea Arnold's "Fish Tank" was a big hit in Britain and at Cannes and now tries its hand at America, who will probably nickname it "White Precious." Anchored by a star-making performance from Kate Jarvis, Arnold's film is more grit and zero melodrama, a step-up from the weepy style of "Precious." Jarvis plays Mia, a teenager living in the ghetto where kids expect to follow in the option-less footsteps of their parents. Her little sister (Rebecca Griffiths) is already smoking and emulating skanks on MTV and mom (Kierston Wareing) is a drunk throwing parties with very sketchy friends. Mia has a dream of becoming a dancer and she finds encouragement from mom's new boyfriend, Connor (Michael Fassbender), a hunky security guard who seems like a nice guy but is, at times, "too friendly." It's familiar other-side-of-the tracks territory but it doesn't spend time wallowing in misfortune. Arnold's film is harsh, and with its use of language (the C and F words are used a lot), dead-end scenery, breathless sexual and violent encounters, and Jarvis' award-worthy portrayal, it's nothing short of compelling. It's a brave performance, a rough-fighter exterior masking youthful vulnerabilities. Fassbender also impresses as a charming/shady character that you're never quite sure has a sexual or fatherly preference toward Mia. It all comes down to a predictable yet scary ending where neglect turns dangerous.
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Overrated movie with characters hard to like...
esterch26 November 2013
I watched this movie because of the high rating and because Michael Fassbender is in it, but it left me quite disappointed. The acting was alright but I didn't find any of the characters interesting, so the only reason I didn't quit watching the movie was because I thought it would get better. There is no clear plot, it's more like a documentary about a low class family, filled by anger all the time, and their relationship with a higher class man, who has much better manners but is definitely not a better person. The message of the movie could be just that no matter how educated you are that doesn't make you a better person, but then the approach could have been much more interesting. The movie is not pleasant to watch since the characters are simply being an ass to each other all the time, and what makes it worse is that it has no entertaining value at all. One can argue that the whole point is to be realistic, but there is nothing special in the movie that makes it worthier to watch than simply observing real life if there is not going to be character growth or insights during the 2 hours anyway. What leaves you thinking is simply why would you even care about people who have no moral values and are difficult to bear with?
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Fish W'ank
Naomh22 August 2011
Warning: Spoilers
Caught this on TV last week and I couldn't be more dismayed at the praise this film has received.

Quick review - a boring film where nothing much happens and anything that does happen is filled with clichés. What? He has a wife and daughter!? *Cue shock / horror music. The "Symbolism" was also pap. A white horse she is trying to free from the chains of this horrible area? - A horse we're told was 16 and was her time and she was killed off. Sigh... The Mother and two daughters who haven't the ability to be warm to each other, yet dance in perfect unison together at the end. You see folks, they are a family! Gimme a break.

Overall it looked quite nice but a bit repetitive after a while and that's about it. For what it's worth I enjoyed the directors previous film Red Road a lot better. At least that had a plot!
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Almost unbearable
hgmichna28 February 2012
Warning: Spoilers
This episode from the life of a 15-year-old English girl depicts an almost unbearable chain of hate, violence, deception, abuse, revenge, depression, and continuous disappointment. Among other things she is cunningly seduced by her mother's boyfriend, only to find out soon that he is married, has a daughter, and love is not involved. If you wait for anybody to say anything nice to anybody else, the only time you hear it is for the purpose to seduce the girl.

Perhaps this type of lowlife really exists, but why anybody would want to see it for any reason other than some kind of social study, escapes me. To make matters even worse, story progress is extremely slow, camera handling is amateurish, and the pretended surround sound emanates almost entirely from the front center speaker. The movie has the technical quality of a home video.
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A good, but not completely satisfactory, movie
Argemaluco1 February 2011
Despite having read very enthusiastic reviews about Fish Tank, I honestly was not very interested in watching it. Another British drama about the nihilistic and ignorant youth in the pathetic suburbs from London (or any other famous British city)? Thanks, but I have already seen so many movies with that subject that I am a bit tired of it. However, and despite not being completely satisfactory, Fish Tank ended up being better than I expected because of the performances and the style from director Andrea Arnold, whose objective coldness does not avoid us from empathizing with the somber characters.

For better or for worse, Fish Tank is one of those movies whose screenplay is almost accidentally drawn in the periphery of scenes focused on the problems, disappointments and fleeting joys the main character finds day after day. On some way, I like the technique, because besides of feeling honest and natural, it also sets the narrative free from the formulas and clichés we are accustomed to find in contemporary cinema. But on the other hand, that style can also be associated with pretentious whims from directors who are so focused in "the art" (you know: long shots with hand-held camera; natural lightning; etc.) that they loose the narrative flow which should be the basis from the movie of their sight. And Arnold occasionally falls into that vices, something which explains the excessive 2 hours she takes to tell a relatively simple story. Nevertheless, the excellent performances helped me to overcome some boring parts from Fish Tank, and I think that they truly elevate the quality from this movie.

In conclusion, I think Fish Tank deserves a moderate recommendation, because I generally found it to be interesting and also because of the performances. I think Fish Tank can provoke a divisive effect on the audience: some ones will take it as an interesting alternative to Hollywood cinema, while other ones will take it as a pseudo-artistic pretentious movie which takes two hours to itself to point out what is obvious. Personally, I incline to the former, but I cannot deny that the film also has a little bit from the latter.
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I admire it more than I like it
dbborroughs5 June 2010
Warning: Spoilers
Dark tale of a teen in an English housing block and what happens when her mom gets a new boy friend. Actually its her life and what happens. Yes she is drawn to her moms boyfriend and yes things go wrong. Where it goes and how it goes is the story.

I'm at sixes and sevens about it. Its a good film, but its not something that clicked with me. Its a slice of life with a side of ugliness, but really well done. I think my problem is that its the banality of existence a bit too drawn out. Yes we experience the boredom, but its a tough slog, or it was for me.

I admire it more than I like it.
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Full Tank
p-stepien22 January 2011
Mia Williams (phenomenal coming out by Katie Jarvis) is a foul-mouthed street-bred 15 year old girl with an aspiration to become a dancer. However living in a decrepit neighbourhood with her alcoholic mother and badmouthing sister does not allow her to dream too extravagantly. Alienated from fellow mates she only finds solace in an abandoned house dancing away to beats from her CD player. Days pass with minor occurrences shaping the mundane paths of Mia. In search of a meaning to her life she attempts to rescue horses or enters a dance competition. But nothing seems to have as much impact as the unhealthy chemistry that forms between Mia and her mother's new boyfriend Connor (breakthrough performance by the man everyone loves to hate Michael Fassbender).

"Fish Tank" made by up-and-comer Andrea Arnold is probably my favourite Cannes movie in an unbelievably strong competition of 2009. Despite not being entirely refreshing and starting off slightly sophomoric ala "Kids" it quickly gets into gear strolling towards being a very emotional hard-hitting movie, which manages to present a strong story with never falling into typical dramatic traps. At times it has moments of pointless behaviour resulting from emotional trappings of the characters with one key nonsensical sequence standing out. Since the action of heroine was so pointless and idiotic it would be easy to falter and trap yourself, but the actions have such intense psychological meaning to them that I was immediately putting my hands together for a ostentatious clap.

As mentioned above the script tangles together the obvious with the surprising cooking up a well-made gourmet dish, which is bound to please both viewers as well as critics. The slight touches of ingenuity are especially pleasing, but at the same time the level of emotionality and character-building allows any viewer to suck into the squalor on screen. Thankfully also Arnold manages to escape any cop-outs during the movie, although several options chosen do pose slight questions about their reality and adequateness to the general plot.

Adding to that absolutely spot on acting by Fassbender and Jarvis, which actually allows the viewer to feel the growing sexual tension, but simultaneously grasps the awkwardness of this relationship, the movie is bound to be an instant classic. Absolutely perfect during most of the duration I did have a couple of minor issues with several scenes, which seemed to hit false notes here and again. This especially goes for the interaction with her mother and sister, that felt like scratching a chalkboard in the final scene. Thankfully however the movie was highlighted by two tremendous lead performances, hence any minor friction in the background goes relatively unnoticed.
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Paint Dry
doctorsmoothlove21 May 2010
Warning: Spoilers
The difference between Fish Tank and other recent films about poor girls is its lack of (original) narrative. Director Andrea Arnold depicts a story that is a glorified retread of nearly every youth-in-trouble film. It's a recreation of a situation that is familiar to anyone with a brief understanding of what it's like to be poor. We do not see anything uniquely English other than accents and locations. The movie doesn't need to take place in Essex. It just so happens that the director and leading actress live there. This story could be transplanted across the pond or across the world for that matter. It isn't terrible, yet it's awfully generic.

Fish Tank was filmed in chronological order weekly until it was finished. The cinematographer went for a realistic look by employing handhelds and occasionally long shots. The characters behave naturally, given their circumstances, but I kept asking myself why I would watch a fictional version of something that would have been better served as a documentary.

Precious can at least claim to have "been based on the novel Push". Such is not true with Fish Tank. Its blandness is based on its director alone. She even found an actual girl from Essex to play the title role. Maybe had she followed the girl around (she was found arguing with her boyfriend) that would have been a film worth seeing. Unlike Precious, whose life was altered in someway (for better or worse), nothing happens to the main character this time. She begins the film as she ends it.

Mia is a fifteen year old girl who lives in public housing with her very young mother and little sister. She does not go to school or do much of anything girls who age are supposed to do. Her only respite is dancing to hip hop songs and drinking. We have the impression that she doesn't have any kind of satisfying emotional relationship with anyone.

Things change suddenly when her mother begins dating a new guy named Connor. He seems to take interest in her and encourages her to reply to a wanted ad for young female dancers. He gives her some music and even takes her fishing. Connor doesn't bother telling Mia or her mother that he's actually married with child. Mia finds out after she sleeps with him and responds by kidnapping his daughter. She returns the kid and decides to move out of her crummy house and live with a friend.

Connor isn't a pedophile, I think. He is a man who exploits his friendship with a girl not necessarily against her wishes either. The mother even derides Mia for wearing skimpy clothing when Connor is around. The love triangle is made possible by the impossibility of effective communication. Not even Connor is able to decide what he wants with Mia or even with her mother. They could both be his play-things or both his opiates for suburban life. The title may refer the audience, as spectator, watching these people move about the redundancy of their lives.

The movie is told from Mia's perspective, and, as it is fictional, could have taken the sympathies of any of its other characters. I agree that Mia's character is not contrived and delivers a great deal of palpable humanity. And I also agree that I found her character irritating. Maybe the movie should be called (latex) Paint Dry.

Not Recommended
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Overrated & boring
cpu-415 November 2011
Warning: Spoilers
Watching a gold fish swim around for 2 hours is more entertaining than watching "Fish tank".

The whole movie can be summed up in one sentence: "A bored teenage girl living with a selfish mother in a bad neighborhood does a bunch of stupid things". It's a pity that an IMDb review needs to be at least 10 sentences long, as to be honest this movie doesn't deserve it. But I'll try.

The main character Mia is actually not unlikeable, and a bit pretty, but doesn't seem to have a single friend. Not one. And she doesn't seem to go to school. Well, perhaps it was a school holiday? Anyway, her main problem seems to be that she is very bored. So she goes out to try and cut loose a horse kept by a bunch of pikeys. And she tries some break dancing (by herself). And she ends up sleeping with the cheating boyfriend of her mother, and then kidnaps his daughter for a little bit. The end.

Actually these eight sentences make the movie seem more interesting than it really is.
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A slow burner that never really takes off
tr918 August 2014
Warning: Spoilers
Fish Tank is a film that I had high expectations for but it fell considerably short of the mark. The premise of the film sounds like a great drama but for me it just didn't work. First of all the film is way too long for what it is, its 2 hours long and hardly anything happens! This easily could've had 30 minutes edited out as some scenes added absolutely nothing to the story.

The film started off good but after an hour I began to realise that nothing special would happen. It was basically just watching a girl walk around her estate, swear at some people, try and free a horse, dance a bit, go home, leave the house again, dance some more and that's really all there was to it. Some of the stuff that was happening was just cringe worthy. The shaky camera was also rather annoying.

The actors done a good but this film could have been so much more. Too long and not enough happening, disappointed.

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Polaris_DiB10 July 2010
Warning: Spoilers
The movie starts out and we are treated immediately to row after row as Mia (Jarvis) walks about the town picking fights with basically anybody that comes into her path. Quite quickly, her home is shown as a small apartment with three women, Mia, her mother, and her sister living too close together for space and too far apart emotionally, with alcoholism predominant in all of their lives no matter their ages, and little patience for anybody. Mia's mother then brings home Connor (Fassbender), another in what is inferred as a long line of men, only this guy seems kind of nice and actually bothers to reach out to everyone in the family. Of course at this point in the movie, nobody's expecting it to be a clean-cut family drama with the new man bringing everyone together and teaching the girls how to be family again, because Andrea Arnold's tracking hand-held camera and cold symmetrical cinematography has already indicated that we're in kitchen-sink realism territory, and Connor's own appearance is suspicious as what kind of simplistic good natured lout would get involved in this family? From there, the camera tracks a not unexpected, but still personable and engaging, story of a 15 year old girls' first romance and her frustrated struggles with her own emotions.

Considering the dancing and the videotaping as part of the subject of the movie, there is a hint of autobiography in this movie from director Arnold, though in what coming-of-age-story isn't? Of all the random movies this reminded me of, I was actually thrown back to Walkabout, Nicolas Roeg's own coming-of-age story that also featured a girl and her growing emotions and sexuality, though in a completely different environment. The reason why I felt such a similarity is mostly because in both movies the characters are in positions that can get them very, very hurt, but they manage to survive and strive through all of it. Here, it was actually refreshing that Mia did not end up raped, mutilated, or overdosed on something, considering that these days directors seem to like to throw in such things as "gritty realism" when sometimes people are perfectly capable of fending for themselves, thank you very much. Mia is precocious, but has enough sense of self-preservation to know how to keep herself safe. If anything, her real problem is opening up to people. This is a much more dynamic and interesting story.

Michael Fassbender is certainly making himself popular these days, what with his roles in Inglourious Basterds, Hunger, and this. Here his greatest feat is maintaining sympathy as a man who really is a good guy despite the fact that he gives away to immorality and abuses his position, or as an immoral man who manages to understand that what he's doing is wrong and he needs to stop from the path he's taking, whichever way you want to look at it. The point is, he is a very realistic character and is neither a hero nor a villain, and what makes Connor's relationship with Mia so interesting is that they really do reciprocate a need for each other, it's just that Connor understands he cannot do it and Mia refuses to see the reason why. Again, much better than a Lifetime Network special where Connor would have just taken advantage and abused Mia and that would be that. Feelings are more complicated here.

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master of her craft
Rob-O-Cop10 May 2010
This really is an exceptionally well made and acted film. It's all in the detail and there is so much to be had here. Exceptionally well crafted scenes that flow like they were improvised. They're so natural, but have detail that must have taken much planning and skill to capture, but the actors play each scene with verve and freshness like its the first and best take. I noticed the skill, but it didn't distract me, if that makes any sense at all. That's how good it was.

The story is bleak as we can expect from the director of Red Road, and it's a small personal story again. there is meaning and depth and again I think that is all in the detail. I didn't find it overly bleak although it isn't really a date movie and much of the enjoyment is in the direction, acting and beautiful cinematography.

I can't wait to see what director Andrea Arnold does next. She's mastered this type of movie and her next project could easily be a biggie. She's an expert on getting natural performances from her characters, telling a story well and capturing it in enlightened detail. Why can't we seeing her take the next Michael Bay project off him. Give Andrea and her team a big budget and story to tell now!
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thebogofeternalstench1 December 2010
Warning: Spoilers
A day in the life of a chavette. That's what this film is about.

The director found the lead actress at a train station having a chav argument with her boyfriend and obviously this is what gets you lead roles in films..........??? Wow, she must of had such amazing talent, all that shouting she did.

So from that note, I'm guessing Katie Jarvis is, basically, playing herself in Fish Tank? That is NOT acting.

And I'm sick of this 'oh, shes never acted before, didn't she do well?' NO she didn't. It is such attention seeking for awards. It's been done countless numbers of times where a sub par director picks a fresh unknown and tries to fish for awards (No pun intended.) I had to laugh at the front of the DVD cover, "Most honored British film of the year' LOL! Really? How pretentious.

The whole film is shot at the same pace and feel...cameraman/woman follows chavette, chavette curses at random people, chavette sleeps with mums bf (wow, never saw that coming...), chavette tries in vain to free a horse from cockney speaking travellers. (Never met a cockney speaking traveler, only Irish ones, so that was totally unrealistic..) ...Chavette does a lot of crap dancing to crap music, goes to a dance audition and just stands there doing nothing then walks off...LOL.

Mums bf who she slept with does a runner so she goes looking for him and discovers he's living with another family, and has a daughter?

She kidnaps his daughter, throws her in the sea, retrieves her, then takes her back home?

At the end of the film she leaves home to go live with one of the incredibly $hit ending.

This film is a travesty. Wheres the story? Do we really need to hear curse words every 2 mins to know she lives on a council estate? We get it!

Another $hit British film that's praised up to be something that its not. And I'm from England.
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holker-127-84577415 August 2011
This film was on BBC's iPlayer and because of IMDb's high rating it got me curious to see this film. The first 15 minutes I was worried I was going to see some "I'm-gonna-dance-out-of-da-ghetto" film, but it turned out to be a coming-of-age flick of some white-trash girl. Now there is nothing wrong with that (Trainspotting is one of my favourite movies), however; there were several times where things were starting to get really dangerous and these were excellent opportunities to make the story really REALLY interesting. But unfortunately for some reason the writer did not have the guts to turn into that road, with the result; a film that fizzles out into another boring supposed-to-be-happy-ending flick.

The film did not deliver any kind of message and it is basically a documentary of a time period where an European white-trash family trying to live the African-American gangster dream. 4/10
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