Starring Denzel Washington, Viola Davis, Mykelti Williamson, Russell Hornsby, Jovan Adepo, Stephen Henderson
His third time out as director will very likely lead to his third Academy Award. Denzel Washington (The Magnificent Seven), already having won a Tony alongside Viola Davis, adapting August Winters work on Broadway, will now likely repeat at the Oscars. Washington adapts Winters work with little change to accommodate for the visual screen. Fences moves and feels very much like a play, with long periods of dialogue and little physical character movement. While it certainly contains a stellar ensemble cast that could realistically end up with four legitimate acting nominations, Washington doesn’t open this film version up enough for praise beyond the achievements in performance. Fences is tough subject matter that follows dynamic family drama over the course of years that only get more distressing as time passes.
A garbage truck man named Troy (Washington) working for the city of Pittsburg in the 1950’s, takes out his disappointment in life on his family. A hard worker, barely making minimum wage, he is resentful of the sports career he never had. He loves his second wife Rose (Davis), the loving, nurturer element to their teenage son Cory (Adepo). “I don’t have to like you, that isn’t part of the deal,” he harshly explains to Cory. Another displeasure for Troy is eldest son Lyons (Hornsby), who he accosts only comes around when he needs money. Rose often begs Troy for more compassion, he says he has nothing else to give beyond a paycheck and physical presence. Best friend Bono warns the patriarch over weekly gin about his dangerous dealings with another woman, and begs Troy to make the right decision.
It’s a good film, an acting show stopper, but I still wanted and needed more from Fences that characters standing around shouting and crying at each other.
The best actor race will come down to Washington, whom I believe has little to no competition, versus Casey Affleck in Manchester By the Sea. The two performance couldn’t be more opposite in tone, as Washington is bold, loud, furious and showy, while Affleck’s is nearly all contained, quiet, internal and passive. Washington does well playing the antagonist of sorts, and his performance under his own direction, allows for an uncountable number of close-ups and scenery chewing moments that infuriate the audience with his brutal character. Davis (The Help) gives an equally powerful performance, making her the odds on favorite to win best supporting actress. She delivers another moving, waterworks performance that continues to establish her powerful presence in the world of cinema.
Fences could have been a stronger film if Washington had gone the route of August Osage County, also adapted from stage to screen, accomplished with bringing the audience into the story more and expanding this world of fascinating characters. If there ever was a time to use the phrase “you’ve made your bed, now you must lie in it,” Troy is the personification of that statement in this story. It’s a good film, an acting show stopper, but I still wanted and needed more from Fences that characters standing around shouting and crying at each other. So many characters and locations are talked about and described, but never shown. The supporting performances from Williamson (Forest Gump) and newcomer Adepo might land nominations if the film as a whole is embraced, but breaking the characters out of the confined back yard and crowded house would have pushed this film into another level.
A performance juggernaut but a letdown as far as a comprehensive cinematic achievement.