Combustible Celluloid
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With: Katie Jarvis, Michael Fassbender, Kierston Wareing, Rebecca Griffiths, Harry Treadaway, Sydney Mary Nash
Written by: Andrea Arnold
Directed by: Andrea Arnold
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Running Time: 123
Date: 05/14/2009

Fish Tank (2010)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Original Fin

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Andrea Arnold's follow-up to her excellent debut feature Red Road is just as mysterious and powerful; it's like a lower-class version of An Education but far more effective.

Mia (Katie Jarvis) lives in the cruddy projects east of London, affecting a tough exterior, picking fights and getting into trouble, but she's really just searching for affection. She seeks solace by retreating to a vacant apartment to practice her hip-hop dancing. When her seductive, slutty blonde mother (Kierston Wareing) invites her new boyfriend Connor (Michael Fassbender), to stay at the house, Mia responds with her usual defensiveness, but is knocked off guard by the handsome thirtysomething's naked, chiseled torso. She begins developing a relationship with him; he becomes a kind of fatherly protector at first, but eventually Mia's need grows beyond this and moves into more dangerous territory.

Arnold is a watcher and a follower, and she includes an astounding array of throwaway details that exude their own life force. The landscape is appropriately rundown and hardscrabble, and even the gray weather seems right. But Arnold is a clever cinematic storyteller as well, and she includes intriguing parallel details such as a sick, old horse that Mia attempts to free from its chains. The penultimate scene, with Mia and her mom sharing a dance to Nas' "Life's a Bitch," is a stunner, and I wish the movie had either stopped there, or kept going for a few more hours.

I'm glad this wonderful little film has received the Criterion treatment on its new Blu-Ray. The disc comes with Andrea Arnold's short films, including the Oscar-winning Wasp (2003); it was included on the Red Road DVD, but now it's on Blu-Ray, and it's worth seeking out. Other extras include interviews, audition footage, a stills gallery, a trailer, and a liner notes booklet with an essay by film scholar Ian Christie.

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