Fish Tank (2009) Review

Fish Tank is a British film. It won their version of the Academy Awards in 2009. After seeing it I have to say deservedly so.

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The movie starts out with the protagonist Mia (Katie Jarvis) going about a typical day in the life. She exists in the lower end of British society and is not depicted very kindly. You can see her problems immediately, the biggest being that she has no (positive) parental figure in her life. When Michael Fassbender’s Conner enters the picture, it has an immediate, but temporary effect. I can’t say what I’d like to say abut that without giving things away, but I will say where the movie was going with Mia and Conner IS predictable. But what happens after that… Wow. I had no idea where the film was going or what it was about.

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It even made me squirm a little. I even had thoughts of turning it off again, this time because the subject matter began to take a VERY nasty turn… Or at least it seemed that it was going that way.

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Jarvis’ Mia had won me over by that point, but the choices she makes (or doesn’t make) in the last hour created quite a bit of anxiety. It’s one of the better finishes that I’ve seen in a movie, recently. There are several story threads that are seen one way in the beginning, but by film’s end have taken on new meaning. The character of Mia is like that. Her behavior initially is obnoxious. There’s little to like about her, but the film paints a pretty good picture of what may be at the root cause of her abhorrent act.

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There was one thing at the beginning (won’t give it away) that the character does that I completely didn’t understand why it was in the film until near the end. That thing I’m speaking of, is shown to represent Mia or at least how she sees herself. It’s done wordlessly and emphatically. Writer/director  Andrea Arnold took the phrase “A picture is worth a thousand words” to heart and I think the best parts of this movie are the moments without dialogue.

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It also uses some subtle symbolism that relates to the title of the film. Pay attention to the use of water motifs in the film.

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Michael Fassbender is an actor that’s been doing great work for quite some time, but is now on the edge of international stardom with his recent slate of films that have included, Inglourious Basterds, the new X-Men movie, as well as this. He’s great here as Connor, a character that, much like the lead, is introduced in a way that casts him in one light, but changes by his last scene.

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Katie Jarvis is exceptional as Mia. I have to direct anyone who thought the blank stare one note “acting” (and I use the term loosely) by Jennifer Lawrence in Winter’s Bone to this film. Jarvis inhabits this character to a degree that you might think that you’re watching a documentary in some parts of the film. She seemed like a real person.

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Her dialogue never seemed scripted in the least.  Jarvis portrays the kind of character that you might see in a Wal-Mart parking lot arguing with her mother and making a complete fool of herself with not a bit of shame. She manages to evoke a little sympathy by film’s end, but the story never becomes smarmy. Jarvis never betrays the personality of the character. The ending is one of those that may be determined by each particular viewer’s outlook on the world.

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This is one of the best films I saw from 2009. I had to once again rearrange my Top 10 Films of 2009 and the Top 100 Films of the 2000s to make room for this one. This movie definitely deserves to be there. I didn’t see this as depressing as some others have said. It paints a bleak picture of the girl’s envronment, but allows for a glimmer of hope. It shows a side of England that you don’t see as much on film (at least here in the states) and has a wonderfully moving story with a point. The acting is very realistic; the characters familiar yet distinctive. Andrea Arnold orchestrates a film that manipulates the viewer from beginning to end (in a good way). It’s a character study with a point.

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5 of 5

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