| A working-class African-American father tries to raise his family in the 1950s, while coming to terms with the events of his life.
August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning drama is one of ten plays he wrote as part of his “Pittsburgh Cycle”. Fences explores the evolving African-American experience, family, the relationship between a father and son, examines race relations, among other themes. More recently, Broadway revived the iconic play. It opened at the Cort Theatre on April 26, 2010, with limited showing. Directed by Kenny Leon, this time around the production starred Denzel Washington as Troy Maxson and Viola Davis as Rose, as the married couple struggling with American race relations. The play was nominated for a total of ten Tony Awards, winning three for Best Revival of a Play, Best Actor in a Play and Best Actress in a Play.
Denzel Washington and Viola Davis reprise their roles from the Broadway revival and give two of the most powerful performances of the year. That’s what this film is built around, and rightfully so. There apparently wasn’t a ton changed from the play as the film really rests on the shoulders of the strength of the cast’s performance. If you’re not invested from the opening scene, then I can’t say this film is for you. But hearing Denzel rip right through monologue after monologue and Davis perform with so much hidden emotion was a thing of beauty. If I had to choose a film to show to an acting class, Fences may just be that film.
“Some people build fences to keep people out, and other people build fences to keep people in.”
Denzel decided to adapt the play onto the silver screen years later and like I said in the title of the review is that what works well in live theater production, does not always transition well onto the big screen. The filmmaking is competent enough but it’s too conventional. The filming is basically straight-on shots and severe close-ups. The one set look (the back yard of the Maxson’s house) keeps the stagey quality front and center, although there are some different locations thrown in to break up the monotony. Much of the dialogue becomes too much allegory and never has a gritty authenticity to be truly convincing. Yet these monologues are still powerfully performed despite the artificiality and contrived plot mechanics on screen.
Plays and movies each show us what they can in their own way. Movies can show the audience more, but this one fails to take advantage of that… advantage. However, this story does us all a service in shedding light on the seldom examined 20th century African-American experience and giving us characters to which many Movie Fans can relate – and learn from – regardless of racial divides. I just wish Washington had used his impressive cast and his chosen medium to tell the story with less talk and more vibrancy. Not to mention that, at 2 hrs. 20 min, the movie is simply far too long for its own good. I have nothing against a long running time, but in this instance it feels unwarranted.
Overall, it’s a pretty good film with phenomenal performances, a good story and I personally pretty much enjoyed it, despite recognizing some of its flaws. If you’re a fan of these actors or the source material, this is probably your cup of tea. If you’re more of a casual movie goer and not looking for a film to emotionally drain you, you might want to look elsewhere for an “easier” watch.
‘Fences’ gets a 7.3/10.
Shot on 35's Rating Sheet: 9.5 – 10.0: Excellent! 8.5 – 9.5: Fantastic, but with minor flaws 7.5 – 8.5: Great, but with issues 6.5 – 7.5: Okay, but with major issues 5.5 – 6.5: Had potential, but falls flat hard. 4.5 – 5.5: Disaster!