Fish Tank

Discerning the goal of a film is crucial to understanding and enjoying it. With films like Transformers, the goal is simple: blow stuff up until the audience smiles. With others, like Winter’s Bone and Fish Tank, the goal is to expose the lifestyle of a certain sect in society. Or, at least that is the goal of the first half of Fish Tank. After an hour it takes a darker turn into movie-style fiction.


Tank is another case in a growing list of complete and utter plot summary failures for Netflix. Here is what they want you to think the film is about:

The life of hot-tempered teen outcast Mia (Katie Jarvis) takes an unexpected turn when her mother, Joanne (Kierston Wareing), brings home a handsome and mysterious boyfriend named Connor (Michael Fassbender), who pledges to bring sweeping positive changes to the household.

This suggests a story of redemption as a dysfunctional family with a trouble-seeking teenager, spiteful mother and foul-mouthed youngest daughter. For a small portion of the film, this does in fact ring true, but as mentioned, the film takes a turn away from this positivity into the decrepit, cynical view that all people are both good and terrible.

Even more so than yesterday’s review, Tank requires an open and patient mindset to see the film through to completion. Admittedly, it took me two viewings (an hour each) to finish the film because the first half does not promote much change or potential for the second. We see Mia go from immature situation to dancing and back more times than you can count. She is constantly looking for trouble and makes sure to find it; otherwise she won’t be satisfied.

Jarvis and Fassbender carry the film excellently. She controls Mia’s wild side with convincing calm during the dance scenes and portrays the internal rage of a neglected teenager when asked to. Meanwhile, the dirty Fassbender finds a way to make a generally obnoxious guy into the semi-hero of the tale. Connor has a dual nature between good and evil, and Fassbender toes the line very well.

The familial relationship is intriguing as the mother clearly is bitter that her daughters took her youth from her. In turn, Mia and Tyler (the youngest) consistently fight with her, as well as one another. A conversation void of yelling is a rare one in this household. When Connor comes in, he shows the ladies what it is like to have a man around the house that shows compassion and interest in their lives. This is the stabilizing, positive force mentioned in the summary. He never “pledges to bring sweeping positive changes”, but he does give them the idea that they can become a nuclear family unit without an immense amount of effort/change.

Then, seemingly out of nowhere—but always in the back of your mind—the story takes a turn as the mystery surrounding Connor fades. I won’t ruin anything about the second half, but the story departs from the realism set up in the beginning. This is not to say the second half is fantastical or absurd in any way; it simply goes off on a tangent that some television shows would use as ratings-grabbing tactics. Granted, if the film continued on its initial path, it would have stayed relatively monotonous and boring, but the “climax” seemed almost out of place.

In any event, the look of the film is interesting with solid use of a handheld camera and the soundtrack includes some classic jazz/rock (not sure what genre to specify it as) and some older rap that sets the tone for many important scenes. All in all, I did not enjoy Fish Tank as much as I had expected, but could definitely see why others have fallen in love with it. To me, it’s just Winter’s Bone 2.0.

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