Release Date: December 25, 2016
Director: Denzel Washington
Writer: August Wilson
Cast: Denzel Washington, Viola Davis, Stephen Henderson, Jovan Adepo, Russell Hornsby, Mykelti Williamson, Saniyya Sidney, Christopher Mele, Lesley Boone, Jason Silvis
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 138 minutes
Production Company: Bron Studios (as Bron Creative), MACRO, Paramount Pictures, Scott Rudin Productions
Budget: $23,700,000 (estimated)
Based on the 1983 play by August Wilson, Fences focuses on the struggles of an African-American family during the 1950’s in the United States. In 1987, it won both the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the Tony Award for Best Play. So anticipation has been on a high. Yet the question still remains if this acclaimed play could transition over to a film. It has all the right ingredients with an award-winning screenplay, and the cast is strong as ever with Viola Davis (The Help) and Denzel Washington (Malcolm X, The Great Debaters), who is both acting and directing. The performances from all sides is everything you would hope for. So, the cast not being in the discussion for best of the year would be a snub, as some of these acts should be a textbook example of how acting should be done. Whether or not it’s smooth sailing from beginning to end, Fences still shines light on a perspective of life that most have never experienced.
If anything else, it was nice seeing a man like Troy Maxson (Washington) love his woman Rose (Davis) the way he did. She was his world, his universe, and everything he needed. Whether his material possessions were high or low, Rose filled any void Troy might have had. To see a couple holding on to a love so pure was great on screen, or so it appeared. From the surface, it was the kind of relationship some hope for regarding all the highs and lows, no matter what each will support each other. Other than the excessive use of vulgar terms, you could feel the amount of passion within the whole family. In regards to the racial slurs, the problem doesn’t lie with the usage of the n-word. That was the times, and that’s how some African-American’s speak today, but coming from Washington’s mouth it didn’t feel fluid at all and stood out like he was trying to make a statement of some sort.
While the family dynamic was there, the way it was captured on screen was an epic failure. Yes, this was adapted from a play, but a play on screen doesn’t work. Excessive exposition is necessary on stage, because you have a limited set and can’t use clever editing techniques to sell an illusion like you can on screen. That’s known before a ticket is even purchased for a play, and is accepted on all accounts. So, when Washington, the director of Fences, tries the same approach as a play would it’s as stale as five-year-old popcorn. During the film, the dialogue ran on and on, going nowhere. The actors on screen weren’t talking to each other. They were talking to the audience with diarrhea of the mouth. In no real life setting would friends and family who knew each other for decades engage with each other like this. They were conversing amongst one another as if they were at the annual camp fire meeting. Adding on to this debacle was the non-existing camera moves. They weren’t there, and at times the experience didn’t feel like a smooth flowing film.
Fortunately, those mishaps didn’t saturate the entire film. The best addition was the father son relationship between Cory (Jovan Adepo) and Troy. When they were on screen together it was edge of your seat moments. As the popular saying goes, it was like an unstoppable force meeting an immoveable object. With both opposing sides having a valid argument, it was thrilling to see the outcome of each of their confrontations. These were the scenes that popped out giving you good reason to spend your money, not the other ones that linger on for minutes on end appearing to give substance. Let’s not forgot about Viola Davis’ performance, though. Hot damn was she amazing, giving it her all as if she had nothing left. I was frightened with joy seeing her emote on screen, and she’s easily one of the best performances of the year, if not the best. Her range has no end, and it feels like she’s only getting started.
Fences has many great arcs going for it along with the bad. With Troy, you really get to see deep down what motivates him on a daily basis, what gets him excited, what scares him, and what puts him in his place. He’s designed by his own fears, haunted by his demons, and still tries to make the best of it all. It’s a real life account of accepting the situation you put yourself in, yet still trying to achieve greatness on the other end. Even with some of his character decisions that are disgusting, there are actions and dialogue to take true note of. With regards to the story, the overall method of delivery was faulty, long, and dried out at times. However, the true substance had its impact in moments that ultimately mattered.