Fish Tank

Slums and the Doldrums


15 January 2010| No Comments on Fish Tank     by Sean Chavel


Considered austere and artistically accomplished by many, yet I am one of the few that finds it a little fake and forced in crucial spots. You are immersed into a world of meanness by the third scene of the movie Fish Tank but that meanness is not earned. I’ve had enough of Mike Leigh’s (“Life is Sweet,” “All or Nothing”) subterranean slum dramas, the last thing I needed was a carbon copy by another filmmaker. This Andrea Arnold film tells the story of Mia (Katie Jarvis), a 15-year old girl living under an irresponsible drunk mother (Kierston Wareing) in a slum area where recreations and activities are limited. Mia has no friends, only an interest in hip-hop. Mia develops a crush on her mother’s boyfriend Connor (Michael Fassbender). Some of this is good and not so fake or forced.

Yet “Fish Tank” is one of these verité pieces that exist purposely to be as realistic as possible, except to the fact there are at least two major developments that are hugely unrealistic. Connor, in the big revelation (SPOILER ALERT), has a secondary life pinned to commitments. But no man can pull off sleeping at a girlfriend’s house on consecutive overnight stays, so easily, when he has another domestic home life. It is also too apparent, or transparent, that Connor gets more dialogue-intimate scenes with Mia than the mother he is dating. To an unconvincing extreme.

Second, a strip club would have seen that Mia is underage and dismissed her before she went on stage. The entire strip club audition is phony, with the filmmaker trying to get you to sigh in pity at a girl stumbling into an exploitation trap.

What makes this film different from say, the emotional powerhouse “Precious” is that film’s director, Lee Daniels, is an enormously empathetic filmmaker who felt he had the need to tell that story. We are getting works by other filmmakers, such as this one of “Fish Tank,” who put out these kinds of movies to show-off their filmmaking skill, to show how “gritty” they can be. “Fish Tank” is preoccupied with throwing obstacles at the heroine in the name of harrowing free-fall, not empathy. The “harrowing” and “devastating” aspects are forced.

Also, Arnold is one of these filmmakers who doesn’t know how to use a steady cam. One of the checkpoints of the movie, the big symbolic moment of this girl’s life, is when she drops an audition tape in the mailbox, a symbolically important moment. A true filmmaker would hold the shot on the mailbox, and hold it steady, to underline its significance. Arnold as a filmmaker swerves the camera around and thoughtlessly tracks onto the next “moment,” onto another scene that has less bearing.

That said, Michael Fassbender is one to watch, and if something can be gained from viewing this film it is in the observation of this actor’s talent. Fassbender, you might remember, played good guy Lt. Archie Hicox who gets a briefing from Mike Myers in “Inglorious Bastereds.” He’s as talented and charismatic as Ewan McGregor, or perhaps a brainier version of Matthew McConaughey.

123 Minutes. Unrated.


Film Cousins: “Distant Voices, Still Lives” (1988, Great Britain); “Naked “(1993, Great Britain); “All or Nothing” (2002, Great Britain); “Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire (2009).

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Sean Chavel

About The Author / Sean Chavel

Sean Chavel is a Hollywood based author and movie reviewer. He is the Executive Director of, a new website that has adapted the movie review site genre by introducing moodbased and movie experience based reviews.


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