Tuesday, 16 February 2010


At the behest of an ex-colleague, who was on the jury that gave Andrea Arnold the Sutherland Trophy for it, I checked out Red Road a couple of years back at... I think it was the Brisbane International Film Festival (all of the festivals blur into one a couple of years after they happen...) and I quite enjoyed it. I thought it was a very solid film, interestingly told, well made, not brilliant but a very good debut. So I was quite looking forward to her follow up, Fish Tank, which came out last year and I kept missing in cinemas (that seems to be a theme for me and movies last year - here's hoping I can get my shit together this year.)

Fish Tank was great. It really was. Mia (Katie Jarvis) is a fifteen year old living on the estates of Essex. Being an Essex girl she has a mouth like a trooper, fights like a bitch and has no respect for anyone. (I apologise for the generalisation... but that's how I've been told Essex girls are. From an Essex girl. It's not quite racism, but it's close, though it also paints a very specific picture in a very short space of time. It's a useful cliche for one in a hurry.) She lives in a little apartment in a hideous highrise so prevalent on the outskirts of London with her mother, Joanne (who must have had Mia at about the age Mia is now... she's quite young - played by Kierston Wareing) and her younger sister Tyler (Rebecca Griffiths - whose mouth is just as foul.)

Mia wants to dance. That's pretty much all she enjoys and all she wants to do. She doesn't seem to have any friends, so takes her discman and speakers to an abandoned apartment and dances a crazy fusion of whatever seems to come into her head. And then Joanne brings home her new boyfriend, Connor (Michael Fassbender - be still my beating heart) and everything changes. Mia likes him instantly, though being a fifteen year old girl she isn't about to let on, instead insulting him as much as she insults everyone. Seeming to have heard it all before, it is water off a duck's back for Connor, who laughs it off as he selectively plays dad to Mia and Tyler, taking them to bed, taking them fishing, giving them lifts. Connor is the perfect predator, knowing exactly how to cultivate the attraction (not that it would be hard when you're Michael freaking Fassbender) without scaring anyone or giving anything away. He encourages Mia to record herself dancing to send off for an audition for a club looking for female dancers, and she does.

Soon, though, everything starts to fall apart. The relationship goes a step too far and it turns out that Connor has been lying about a lot. Mia uncovers it and confronts Connor, taking something dear to him before almost destroying it and then returning it. Connor turns on her, but being a victim of a sexual predator almost twice her age who she herself actively pursued, Mia is too scared to take revenge, instead shipping out with a boy she met when she tried to set his horse free earlier in the film.

Jarvis is exceptional in her debut role. She is the perfect sulking loner teenage girl in public, but in private or when not watched is craving those all-too-adult feelings of reciprocated attraction. Hovering on the edge of adulthood, she's not quite there yet, and seems unsure as to whether she should fight for inclusion, thereby demonstrating her immaturity, or sit back and wait for her entrance pass, which means she's going to miss out on so much she wants to be a part of. She's backed up very well by Wareing as her mother, trashy and uncaring, completely unaware of what her daughter is doing, let alone feeling, and with no ability to control either of her children. Speaking of children, Griffiths is possibly most frightening as the much younger sister displaying so many of her sister's character traits, because she is so young. Why does innocence not last? And Fassbender, as the only male influence on these women, proves not to be a particularly good one, playing the creepy older man and the overwhelmingly attractive heartthrob simultaneously with perfection. I won't talk about the fact that he does a lot of it only half dressed, because that would indeed be crass.

Arnold lifts from her strong debut to give us an excellent sophomore effort, something that many struggle with, and with Robbie Ryan managed to capture the stark nature of the world these people inhabit simply and with an austere beauty. Jarvis will emerge the star, hopefully managing to parlay this introduction into a career if she can show she has the chops, but the film as a whole is very strong. 4.5 stars.

1 comment:

  1. "(Michael Fassbender - be still my beating heart)"

    :)))) it seems half of the world has some heart problems whenever Fassbender appears on the big screen.
    And he's not just stunning but also profoundly talented.