Fences review: by Rob Stoakes
UK certification: 12A
The Oscars are a marketing gimmick!
There, we’ve got it out of the way. Everything that you’ve secretly and cynically suspected about the Oscars is horribly correct.
It is a multi-million advertising campaign where the winners are primarily the films that want promoting as decided by a room full of old farts with increasingly out-of-date ideas who were all bribed for the privilege of watching movies.
This is why the phenomenon of the Apology Oscar exists. Giving someone an Oscar for a seemingly odd choice because a few years prior they absolutely should’ve got one but didn’t due to the marketing machine. One of the biggest victims of this was Denzel Washington, who won an Oscar for Training Day when really it was an apology for not giving him Best Actor for Malcolm X. But now it’s Denzel who’s pushing the marketing for him as an actor.
At least, I hope it’s that he’s marketing, because if he’s pushing this as a fine example of his directing then he had best stick to his day job because Fences is kind of rubbish.
The plot of Fences, if it can be said to have one, is that Troy Maxim, played by Washington himself, stands around in his back garden being a terrible person without much rhyme or reason, but with the number of times it gives him a great big “I AM ACTING” speech about responsibility and making it on your own and roofing tiles and whatever else, the film seems to think that he’s relatable.
Now, I like me an unlikeable protagonist, ironically enough. Take Withnail from Withnail and I; he is one of the most horrible people in all of moviedom. But the reason he’s great is that there’s an underlying reason behind his detestableness. You know what’s going on in his head, which adds a tragic undercurrent to him. You don’t even have to sympathise with him, you just know why he is how he is and there’s a point to it that ties into the rest of the film.
Fences, however, doesn’t really have a point. None of the characters learn anything, or have narrative arcs, or even are that interesting. Decently performed, little doubt about that, but completely without substance. And while great acting can save a bad script in a way that a great script can’t save bad acting, great acting can’t save no script. It’s like pouring artisan Crème Fraiche and handpicked mushrooms onto a microwave hotdog.
Plus it does gun cynically for the Oscar winner’s bingo card. Play along at home! We have:
– A shallow suggestion of race issues
– Vague, out-of-place religious iconography that is as subtle as a clown-storm at a Slayer concert
– Dull camerawork
– Staging that is better suited for a play than a film
And for the final point, because of course it’s in there…
– A court jester’s interpretation of a mental disability, which here is portrayed more like the high-pitched warbling village idiot whose every word and goddamn stupid catchphrase is meant to be inspiring and adorable and instead makes me want to batter him senseless with the remains of the chewed up scenery.
Come and collect your prize, this week we only have Disappointment in stock!
Of the big buzz Oscar films I’ve seen this year, Fences is the worst by quite a significant margin. Even the main draw, the acting, is good but not that good. It’s not strictly incompetent, though. As far as pointless, boring character studies with no characters go, Gerry is still the undisputed king of rubbish, and Denzel Washington has (sadly) been in much worse, but there is really no reason to watch Fences even if you are a fan of the man’s work.
Or not, really. I’m reviewing an Oscar movie, after all, I might as well be reviewing a Coca Cola advert.
Budget: $24 million/Music: Marcelo Zarvos/Length: 139 minutes
And if you want a review of Fences for your ears, along with a look at Aliens, then tune in to this week’s Battleship Potemkast!