Running time: 2 hour 19 minutes
Director: Denzel Washington
Cast: Denzel Washington, Viola Davis, Stephen Henderson, Jovan Adepo, Russell Hornsby, Mykelti Williamson, Saniyya Sidney
Spoiler alert in effect.
Fences is a film adaption of a play that goes by the same name, written by August Wilson. The trailer itself is a bit misleading, because it shows pretty much all the dramatic moments of the film and makes it seem like there’s a lot more drama and energy than there really is. They even showed Viola Davis’ snot-filled Oscar-winning performance, which really, was one of the few highlights of the film. I was pretty excited to watch, because I heard the performances by Denzel Washington and Viola Davis were phenomenal. I came into it without any knowledge of the play, so perhaps it’s my own fault for not expecting what was to come. It’s a very wordy and dialogue-heavy film, with everything essentially shot in only a few locations around the house. You have to be really invested in listening and responding to the dialogue, because that’s pretty much the entire film. Once you get lost, it’s hard to find your way back into the story.
Fences is set in suburban Pittsburg during the 1950s, and follows Troy Maxton (Denzel Washington), the patriarch figure of the family. He was once primed to be a Major League baseball player, but at that time, no African-Americans were allowed to play. Instead, he had to find a job and ended up working as garbage collector, where he met his good friend Jim Bono (Stephen Henderson). The story picks up in a more turbulent and uncertain time for his family, with his brother Gabriel (Mykelti Williamson), a former soldier in WWII, returning home with a severe head injury that left him with a mental impairment. Troy’s son Cory (Jovan Adepo) is a promising football player, who has quit his part-time job in order to attain more training sessions. This does not sit well with Troy, who still lives with the memories of a failed sporting career, and therefore does not approve of Cory pursuing this path. Then there’s Troy’s wife Rose (Viola Davis), who has been loyal at his side since marriage. We find out that Troy has been having an affair, leading to a breakdown in his relationship with his family. So where do the fences come into play? Well, throughout all this unfolding drama, Troy is attempting to build a fence around his house. I guess it must be metaphoric of how he is shutting everyone out of his life. He’s a man who cannot let go of the demons of his past, and takes that out on everyone, preventing anyone else to follow their dreams. He’s not a likeable character and that makes it even harder to watch. There’s a lot of references to death as well, including the Grim Reaper. Parts of the story seem very metaphoric in nature, and sometimes you don’t know what’s reality and what’s not. For me, it further added to the confusion I had with the story and make the whole experience feel very underwhelming.
It’s a testament to Denzel’s and Viola’s acting that you still want to know what happens to these characters at the end. They also played these roles in the stage production, so they know their characters back to front, and that really shows in the film. Every word, facial expression and body language just exudes their character and makes for some really extraordinary performances. The entire cast is simply superb to the watch, and for that reason alone, I recommend watching it. I mean, Viola Davis did win her first Oscar for this role. I think the story plays out better on stage than it does on screen, only because the locations are so static and there’s just relentless dialogue that you have to keep up with. And it’s not simple, plain dialogue either. It’s colloquial-style and fast pace will make it difficult for some audience members to follow, me included. I don’t think the story and writing is necessarily at fault, but rather the medium used to portray it. While this isn’t my cup of tea, it will be for others who can appreciate a more artistic and wordy film, as many critics appear to do.