Michael Fassbender was already on Hollywood's map when Fish Tank came out in 2009. But Andrea Arnold's film served as a perfect calling card for how simultaneously charming and frighteningly intense he could be. Fassbender had earned his serious actor chops the year before by dropping a scary amount of weight for his memorable, steely work in 2008's Hunger. Later in the year, he'd turn in an unfortunately brief but devilishly fun appearance in Inglourious Basterds.
But the story of Fish Tank hinges entirely on Fassbender's onscreen presence. Though it's focused on troubled 15-year-old Mia (a terrific, raw performance from first-time actress Katie Jarvis), it's Fassbender's Connor who propels the story. Connor is a surprisingly stable new boyfriend for Mia's mother and manages to draw the withdrawn Mia out of her shell a little bit, encouraging her interest in dancing and catching a fish with her on a day trip.
All the while, there's a gnawing sense of danger to Connor and Mia's friendship. As she did in the Academy Award-winning short Wasp and her feature debut Red Road, Arnold is exploring working class life in Britain with as little varnishing as possible, and Mia's life on a council estate (housing project) in East London seems to mark her for doom. Her mother, who is in her early 30s, clearly had her as a teenager, and is largely absent as a role model, intending instead to send her to a boarding school geared towards "ASBOs" (a British label for kids who indulge in anti-social behavior) which would certainly be a horrible place.