Thursday, December 17, 2009

Review - Fish Tank

Saw this at TIFF months ago, but haven't been able to put my thoughts in print until now, so here it goes.

Many youths are angrier these days. They're violent, they're sexually confused, and they abuse drugs and alcohol. And who's to blame? The parents? To an extent, but the terrific British indie Fish Tank suggests that the onus should be put on the whole of a society that encourages children to grow up before their time. The same society that then discards delinquent youths as hopeless cases, when they're the ones who need the most attention. Badly.

These are heavy themes for a young actor to pull off, but Fish Tank thrives on the blistering performance of discovery Katie Jarvis. She plays Mia, a fifteen year-old with secret dreams of being a hip-hop dancer, but who feels suffocated in her decrepit suburban neighbourhood. She does come from a broken home, but writer/director Andrea Arnold is quick to direct our attention to the squalid neighbourhood in which Mia has been brought up. Starved for freedom and compassion, she is chained down to this way of life like a captured animal, a visual motif that Arnold returns to several times throughout the film, most notably in the form of an old horse Mia repeatedly attempts to rescue. But when Mia's deadbeat mother (scathingly performed by Kierston Wareing) brings home a new boyfriend who actually gives Mia some of the love she's never had (Michael Fassbender of 2008's Hunger), she starts lowering her defenses. But how will her sensitive psyche handle such huge changes?

Arnold employs a very utilitarian photographic style, but she still manages to capture some truly original and purposeful shots that don't seem out of place with the rest of the film. Intelligibly edited to boot, Fish Tank represents one the most subtly but exceptionally crafted films of the year.

All said, Fish Tank is an excellent film, delivering a number of emotionally crushing blows and probing the plight and struggle of our world's psychologically impoverished youths. It deserves awards attention, but I wouldn't count on it. It's earned positive festival notices but that's not enough for any Academy attention, and it's not even getting a theatrical run until next year. Sadly, “no Oscar for you”.

***1/2 out of ****

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