Andrea Arnold's feature debut, Red Road, was a moody suspense thriller, wrapped inside a seemingly melancholy tale of one woman coming to grips with the tragedies of her past. It was guttural and it was real, but it was also filmed in an almost dreamy, albeit nightmarishly so at times, manner reminiscent of filmmakers such as Jacques Tournier and Nick Ray. In other words, it was a troubling yet fascinating tale of sexualized noir. Arnold's sophomore effort, Fish Tank, has many of these same attributes - the dreamy quality, the overtly disturbing sexuality, the guttural instincts (especially in the surprisingly raw lead performance of first-timer Katie Jarvis) - but in many ways lacks the cinematic moodiness of its predecessor that made that film seem like a living, breathing creature, fully of its own segregated, unique world.
This is not to say that Fish Tank isn't a film worth seeing, because it certainly is for many reasons - first and foremost being the aforementioned Katie Jarvis and her piercing performance. Reputedly discovered while having a knockdown, drag-out fight with her boyfriend on the platform of the London Underground, the seventeen-year-old actress (playing fourteen here) hands in a stunning performance as Mia, a low class teenager desperate to escape her dreary life in the projects. Sort of like a white trash Precious (if one can casually toss off such a moniker without seeming flippant) Fish Tank relies on Jarvis' exposed portrayal of teen abandonment to make it all work out as well as it does. The young actress does just that very thing.
The film's other acting highlight is Michael Fassbender as the boyfriend of Mia's mother and the object of Mia's naive affections. Fassbender, last year seen as IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands in Hunger (a role for which the term Oscar snub was invariably created for!) and that unfortunate Inglourious Basterd who found out the hard way what the German gesture for three is (!!), plays his role with a strange combination of Irish bad boy charm and predatory menace. Granted the ending of the film is quite cliche indeed (and inevitably loses points for that) and may not be the living, breathing creature, fully of its own segregated, unique world that Red Road was (or is) but the performances of Fassbender and (especially) Jarvis make the film fly a bit higher than otherwise indicated. [04/07/10]