Fences (Film Review)


By Andrew Clarke (@AwaitingAndrew)
Fences is directed by and stars Denzel Washington as a middle-aged African American garbage collector in 1950s Pittsburgh. Viola Davis, in a Golden Globe and likely soon to be Academy Award winning performance, plays his wife, and the film is about their relationship and their struggle in raising a family.
It becomes evident quite early on that Fences is a film adaptation of a play, as we spend all but less than five minutes on one set: the home. The majority of the film takes place on the back porch, but we also visit the other side where kids are playing baseball as well as the inside. There is quite a bit of time spent in one setting with only a few changes in shots between. Denzel does a great job here as a director, but his true power lies in his starring performance.
As it is based upon a play with minimal scene changes, that means that the characters and the dialogue is what must carry a film like Fences, and does it ever! We often find Denzel’s Troy Maxson drinking on the back yard with his longtime friend, Bono (played by Stephen McKinley Henderson) – and it’s just normal old conversation that is worthwhile, enlightening us to these characters’ pasts, until someone makes a remark or two and then it suddenly becomes an incredibly gripping conversation.
Troy was an ace with a baseball bat, but by the time the major leagues starting playing minorities, he was told he was too old to play. Lamenting over his missed opportunity, Troy tries to prevent his football playing son from following in his footsteps, as he knows all too well that the glory could be taken away without a warning at any moment.
Washington and Viola Davis are getting incredible levels of attention for their performances, and it’s quite warranted. Both of these actors are brilliant, reminiscing on what they’ve lost over the years and where they’re now headed. Troy Maxson gets by collecting garbage but it’s clear in his repeated drunken flirtation with death that he’s wishing he made more of his life. His wife, Rose (Davis), has been faithfully by his side as they raise a son now in high school, and this film leaves us wondering what life she gave up for Troy. Davis outshines Washington once something is revealed, but that’s not a knack on Washington’s fine performance in any way.
But not enough attention has been given to the rest of the cast. Jovan Adepo is exceptional in a breakout role portraying their son, Cory. He has dreams of his own to be a football star. Rose is supporting of her son’s dreams but she plays second fiddle to husband Troy who insists that their son find a job where he can craft a skill that no one can take from him. Stephen Henderson is great as Troy’s longtime friend Bono whom he met around the time he became an ace at bat and has been with him ever since. Also noteworthy is Mykelti Williamson (Bubba in Forrest Gump) in a heartbreaking performance as Troy’s mentally challenged brother who insists he communicates with St. Peter and fends off bloodhounds on the regular.
And consider this: Fences is a small film centered around a select few cast of characters, and I praised just about every actor who appears in the just over two hour runtime. It exceeds on the big screen because everyone is near perfection.
Fences was written by August Wilson and premiered in 1983 in Connecticut before opening in Broadway in 1987. It was revived on Broadway in 2010 starring the same adult actors we see in the film including Denzel Washington and Viola Davis. It went on to win three Tony Awards for Best Revival of a Play and Best Actor and Best Actress in a Play, and the film adaptation is in the running for similar awards at the Oscars next month. Davis will almost certainly win Best Supporting Actress, and Washington will be among the top vote getters in his category with a solid chance to win.
Fences seems that it would be even more impactful on a stage, but the performances by the actors make for a powerful spectacle that is not to be missed regardless of the setting.
I give Fences an 8.

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