BigScreen . DVDpendence . videophile . blu-ray
With Denzel Washington, Viola Davis, Jovan Adepo, Mykelti Williamson, Russell Hornsby, Stephen Henderson, Saniyya Sidney
Written by August Wilson (based on his play)
With trailers and press often giving away too much, since the first publishing of my movie writing started in 1997, I usually prefer avoiding any detailed media or specific info on a film in order to see it fresh, get drawn in, surprised, thrilled and awed by story elements. Within the first fifteen minutes of Fences I thought how much the dialog and setting feels like a play... And so it is.
There is conflict with Cory who wants to become a football player and Troy's authoritarian edict in his house is the age old one of: he pays the bills, so he makes the rules, and feels justified in putting those around him down, having paid his dues. One of the rigid tasks Cory has to fulfill each Saturday includes assisting in the building of a wooden fence around the back yard (where an alley connects all the houses on their block), a procrastinated job that seems like it may never be completed.
Details, secrets and revelations are craftily paced, unpacked and exposed throughout the narrative (including Troy's reminiscent tales he retells over a drink). Many symbolic devices are also at play, but like the themes and analogies flowing throughout (including baseball home runs and trike outs, building real and figurative fences, keeping the Grim Reaper at arms length, and Gabriel blowing his horn for the rapture), it is not forceful or too much of a blatant flag being waved, its significance subtly and profoundly revealing itself.
With Troy as the focal point, his family (together with his colleague and friend Bono) love, admire, tolerate and dislike him in equal parts, all acting as moral satellites reflecting back at him, but whether it penetrates his headstrong personality is a high hurdle to overcome, his intensity a fluctuating one.
The strife and hardships of Troy's past (including a nasty father), which helped to shape him into the man he is (for better and worse), plays a significant role in his treatment of his family, his expectations of them to rise above, but at the same time stunting them from striving for their dreams (like Cory wanting to become a football player and Lyons wanting to be a musician). His failures, afflictions and disappointments has him inadvertently and contradictorily nullifying the aspirations of others, while professing wanting them to do better than him and the disadvantages he faced.
The racial issues of the time is naturally a presence, with civil rights far from realized. But it is illustrated honestly and looks at how its residue has molded this family internally, very little of the outside world and its wider discrimination policies depicted.
The film is driven by fantastic performances all round, an authenticity very convincingly related by this stellar cast (both Washington and Davis treading the boards on stage with the play for lenghty periods, the material second nature to them). Multiple Oscar winner Denzel got the Screen Actor's guild Best Actor nod and Viola Davis has won many Supporting Actress awards so far as Rose (and well deserved). But, it brings me back to a question I often have - when is a role really a lead or supporting one? - as in this case as the sole female figure, I feel Davis fulfills the lead actress role in the movie…
This is Washington's third feature film directorial effort (previously helming Antwone Fisher and The Great Debaters). As an award winning actor, he's highly adept at pulling the performances from the actors, making him the ideal man to realise this film.
Clocking in at almost 140 minutes, it could be taxing on some (who prefer Batmobiles and Autobots), but even being a dialog-heavy film, it is engaging enough to keep you rapt throughout.
5 / B
© 2017 - Flamedrop Productions