It’s obvious that Denzel Washington has an affinity for Fences. Not only is he starring and directing in the film adaptation of it, but he also starred in the stage play version over one hundred times along with his co-star Viola Davis. With the love these two have displayed for this material, it’s no wonder why they have continued to attach themselves to it. And after watching the film, I think audiences can gain a good sense of why they feel so passionate about all that it entails.
Although it’s been around for a while, Fences has become a huge part of Denzel Washington’s world. In cinematic terms, that’s not only because he is the main force behind it as the director and star. In the story itself, it’s also his world since what’s being showcased features his character as the undeniable center of all that’s happening. Whenever a film is set up that way, you can’t go wrong with an actor of Washington’s talents.
Here, the heralded actor stars as Troy Maxson, the patriarch of an African-American family finding a way to survive in the 1950’s. As the unquestionable leader, this Pittsburgh native spends much of his day working as a garbage collector and loving Rose (Viola Davis), his caring wife. Outside of that, he’s also forced to deal with all the issues that life has waiting for him. Whether its dealing with the psychological problems that plague his brother (Mykelti Williamson), the constant financial needs of his eldest son (Russell Hornsby), or his youngest son Cory’s (Jovan Adepo) desire to remove himself from the tight grip of his old man, there’s always something for the former baseball player to deal with.
With this being based on a stage play, it shouldn’t come as much of a shock to find that the characters in Fences speak early and speak often. As a matter of fact, before we even get to see anything, we here everything. The dialogue has everything to do with the success or failure of Fences simply because there’s so much of it. In a perfect world, reducing the dialogue to some degree would have made the film a bit quicker and less drawn out. I understand why this is handled the way that it is, but this isn’t a stage play. You can afford to be more visual and less verbal.
The film itself is not the type of spectacle that we see more and more frequently in modern cinema. It’s shot in a very basic form and very rarely does anything stand out visually. Just by looking at what is seen, you know this didn’t have any kind of insane budget when talking about the sets that we visit and the camera work that we see. I don’t mind most of that personally, but it would have been nice to get a bit more camera magic in there. It does come into to play much later in the film, but I would have liked for it to be utilized earlier.
Led by Washington, the actors are what make this work. I found myself forgiving the extended verbiage and the lack of camera work because I was caught up in the acting and the experiences of the family that we’re watching. Ultimately, you’ll find yourself wanting to know about their lives and how they’re going to deal with things. There’s a lot going on with them but you never feel overwhelmed by any of it.
I guess that’s because they’re dealing with some issues that could be relatable in some form. Understanding the youngest son’s desire to grow and live out his dreams is something anyone can relate to. You may also be able to relate to the position that the oldest son is in since we all might know someone who’s struggling with adulthood for whatever reason. Then there’s a marriage dilemmas that come into play as well. All of this works in favor of building rapport between the audience and the characters.
All of this is shown as being thrown at the feet of Troy Maxson. After a while, things start to boil over as he’s pushed to come to terms with it all. Sure, it’s all seen from his view, but things begin to ramp up for the rest of the actors as well over time. And once that happens and everyone else voices start to become louder within the world of Troy Maxson, it somehow manages to become more about him. This is a unique way to tell story and it somehow works extremely well.
During this time, we get a better look at the other characters as well as Troy and his flaws. In the end, he wants what’s best for his family, but he does so in a way that can show love and do harm to an extent. It’s something that the people around him either accept or have to learn to accept if they choose to stay around. I guess in that sense, Fences is about how certain personalities can keep you in or keep you out. When you comes to understanding that, it shows the dynamics of what’s behind the devotion that this longstanding play has from people like Washington and why it carries such an obvious title.
Director: Denzel Washington
Stephen McKinley Henderson
Film Length: 138 minutes
Release Date: December 25, 2016
Distributor: Paramount Pictures
- Score - 7.5/107.5/10