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Fish Tank hits all of its details with perfect accuracy. The homes have a quality to them of cheapness and dirt beneath the surface of everything that makes you expect to step on a cigarette butt as the camera wanders through the main characters’ apartment. You can almost smell the smoke sunk into the walls and the beer soaked into the carpets as the film progresses. The chief location of the film, it serves as the anchor and titular metaphor, the fish tank these people bump their heads against, occasionally testing the boundaries of, be it with alcohol, casual sex, television or any other distraction, but never successfully escaping.

Mia, a 15 year old girl with hip hop dance hopes, watches in frustration as her constantly neglectful, occasionally abusive mother drinks her life away and throws parties with her friends and casual acquaintances. One such acquaintance, Connor, though clearly one of many such men, moves in with the family rather quickly and absorbs all of the mother’s sparing attentions. He also casually provides a sort of father figure to the two young girls, Mia and her younger sister, Taylor.

He offers encouragement to Mia in her dancing, the only person of the film to do so, and becomes essentially her only friend. He also blurs the lines of their relationship with creepy frequency, from undressing her slightly too far while tucking her in when he believes her to be passed out to a playful spanking that goes on too long for comfort for either of them. Between this, her attraction to him and simply being a 15 year old, Mia is overwhelmed by the situation. Their relationship evolves from there and much more about Connor eventually comes to light.

The cast is good for the most part, though it is essentially a two person show between Fassbender and Jarvis. Fassbender keeps his character light and fun when not in a challenging place and quite fatherly when the situation calls for it. Newcomer Jarvis really captures the mood of her character, the fake toughness a scar over her vulnerability and her need for a father figure and even just some sort of guidance in her life. Her later reactions with a little girl and general moral ambiguity and unpredictability in making her choices make her an easy character to both sympathize with and in whom to prepare yourself to be disappointed.

But as good as the two characters are most of the others get glossed over with necessity. Next to nothing is ever revealed about the mother. Taylor is little more than a sad comic relief until the final scene. And the boy Mia meets during her attempts to free a horse is little more than a plot device to provide an ending to the film. The horse, though a visually striking presentation of something out of context with its surroundings, is such an obvious symbol that it lacks much meaning. In the end I found Fish Tank to be like this, a well made, excellent presentation of a story that I cannot help but feel I have seen often enough already. 3 ½ stars.

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