Saturday, October 17, 2009

REVIEW: Fish Tank...

I love me some "Gus Van Sant" style drama.

Fish Tank, the newest film from Red Road director Andrea Arnold, plays like Look Back In Anger, done by Gus Van Sant during his Elephant days. It's got the same style of raw and realistic film making, just minus the poetic/dream like direction. And you know what, it works brilliantly in this fantastic British drama.

Fish Tank follows 15-year-old Mia, who begins to fall for the considerably older Connor. As soon as he takes a gander at her hips during a hip hop dance, and she has a chance to see him in all his glory while getting some tea, it becomes clear that their worlds will collide in some way or another. However, Connor also happens to be with her mother, making this story all the more conflicted. He moves into their flat, and so goes the film, which in all accounts is one of the most comedic, poignant, and at moments horrifying, films I've seen in a long time.

Sure, this plot isn't anything to write home about. However, what makes this film the special piece of cinema that I think it is is the two lead roles. Particularly, the role of Mia, played by Kate Jarvis, is beyond superb. She has the British sense of badassery, and yet, still has this stark sense of innocence that makes her all the more compelling, and all the more interesting to watch on screen. It's a boisterous performance at times, with her dropping the c-word like they are bad habits, yet, also has this look of sweetness in here eyes during some scenes, that it's truly a powerful and raw performance. She takes the strong and difficult dialogue, and is able to put such strength into it, with a similar sense of sobriety, that it's a performance not to be missed.

Alongside her is Michael Fassbender, who, coming off of a small, yet brilliant turn as the film critic in Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds, this is a vastly different role. It's not that he doesn't love Mia's mum, it's just that he has a thing for this girl, who happens to be her daughter. When they do the deed, it is a harsh scene, but it's not shot in any sort of vicious manner that a film maker with a less steady hand would turn it into. It's not erotic in any sort of way, but it's also not mean spirited as other films would have turned it into. Fassbender is able to take this easily hated character, at least when he turns near the end, and add so much heart to him, that when everything begins to fall, you honestly still somehow have fondness for this man.

That is the major thing that makes this film different from others. Heart. There is one scene in particular, near the end of the film, that is simply a dance scene involving the mother and her two daughters, that is so poignant and uplifting, that you can't help but feel for these characters. You get immersed in this world, with the fantastic acting, brilliant dialog, and a really stand out, hip-hop filled soundtrack, that it makes the ending all the more powerful.

However, all of this would be for naught if there wasn't a steady hand behind the camera. As with her previous work, Red Road, Andrea Arnold creates not only a raw and unflinching story, but she paints that canvas with an equally raw frame. The film is full of intense emotions, many of which our characters would rather not have unleashed, however there are also many emotional moments that rely just on moments of silence and the actions of the characters to say what words truly can't. It's not a big budget thriller, it's just a raw look at this teens life as she strives to find love, and a place in this world, all the while trying to bust out of this fish tank that she has found herself in. Arnold is able to not only make the story work for the most part, but also, the interesting skill she has is that she is able to, along with music, make a setting become alive. Most of the time, in these kinds of films, the characters simply act in front of a background, however, with Fish Tank, this setting becomes truly alive.

That said, the film does have a few flaws.

The film isn't the most original piece of cinema ever. Basically Lolita from the other side, or any Ken Loach film, Fish Tank is based on a premise that has been done many times before, and will be done many times afterward. What can be described as a "young angry man", kitchen sink drama, but made by an angry British gal, this does work a lot, but it does fall flat in a few spots. The film itself also has a rather useless and standard "urban fairytale" style plot, involving an urban boy and his horse, which doesn't work really at all.

Also, when the film begins to slow a bit, the lack of a sense of visual style doesn't leave much for the viewer to chew on. It's not that the film isn't interesting, because it is, especially visually, but when the story begins to slow, there isn't much to visually chew on. Also, the film is not for everyone. This isn't the next big block buster. This is a poignant little look into a character's life, and one that no one SHOULD miss, but one that I know many, if not all of you will. It's also not one people will be smiling about after seeing. It's a grim and depressing picture, but it's one all should see, and one I will be talking about for the remainder of the year, as this is easily one of the best films of the year.

FISH TANK - 9/10

Go see something good!

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