Yesterday I saw the movie “Fish Tank,” which I initially thought of as just very good, with one fierce burning performance at its center. Now I’ve come to realize it’s even better—there are several sequences that will stay in my mind for some time—and that the movie has something to teach writers.
I went into it hopeful (everyone has raved about newcomer Katie Jarvis’s performance), but a little skeptical (often these “gritty low-budget” films have their own kind of pose, just as calculated and false as standard Hollywood fare). But what this movie does well, and at times brilliantly, is offer pure dramatic action: without explanation, justification, resolution. This is in general a strength of stage & screen over fiction—there is not such easy recourse to internal commentary, or extended exposition. But they, too, can fall prey to their own easy outs, such as clunky expository dialogue, the sudden flashback that neatly explains the present.
“Fish Tank” wants nothing to do with any of that. There are scenes here, constructed of the humblest materials, that—because of the carefully established dramatic context, and the patience to hold a moment of slow-burning tension to the breaking point—are as gripping and harrowing as you could ever hope for. Check it out. (Director Andrea Arnold’s previous film, “Red Road,” has one major flaw, but is otherwise tense, compelling stuff.)