Fences (2016) Movie Review: Washington and Davis Dazzle!
Thoughts on Fences?
Did you enjoy it or not?
Is Denzel Washington and Viola Davis deserving of their Oscar nominations?
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“Some people build fences to keep people out and other people build fences to keep people in” Jim Bono
I went into the film screening of Fences without knowing anything about the story line. It’s based on a 1983 pulitzer prize winning play by August Wilson. Upon arriving I discovered that Denzel Washington had directed Fences. He also starred in a successful Broadway revival of the play. A Pulitzer prize winning play adaptation headlined by Denzel Washington and Viola Davis. I had high hopes!
Fences is set in 1950s Pittsburgh. Troy Maxson (Denzel Washington), a waste collector, lives with his wife Rose (Viola Davis) and their son Cory (Jovan Adepo). Lyons (Russell Hornsby) is his first son to a previous marriage. Lyons visits Troy infrequently to borrow money and to persuade his father to visit the nightclub where he plays music. Troy is often accompanied by his best friend and work buddy Jim Bono (Stephen McKinly Henderson). Troy’s older brother Gabe (Mykelti Williamson) is mentally impaired due to World War 2 head injury. Troy used his government payout to purchase the Maxson family home.
Troy is a man full of regrets, resentment yet firm principles and pride. He is angry that he works a menial job and has no money to his name. Troy played baseball for the Negro league. It seems that he never made it to major league due to his age but he blames the color of his skin. He insists on Cory helping him build a fence around the house whilst forbidding him to pursue his dream of professional football.
Cory must focus on his schooling and his part time job. Troy believes that Cory will never make it due to being black. Troy frequently reflects on his tyrannical and violent father and his near death from pneumonia. He claims to have defeated the Grim Reaper in a fist fight, in which the Reaper vowed to return for a rematch.
Fences boasts an excellent adapted screenplay. The script crackles with intense and intelligent dialogue leaving the viewer captivated and wanting to know more. It never strikes a false note and captures the human struggles in each character with honesty and integrity.
Washington does a great job with the directing. The majority of the movie is filmed within the parameters of the family home. It stays true to its theatrical origins and this works to the film’s benefit. It adds to the claustrophobic subtext of the narrative.
Washington gives the best performances of his career. His portrayal of Troy is both brave and complex. Troy is a figuratively enormous man. The house becomes an extension of Troy’s personality. He takes up so much space in the house that there is isn’t enough room or air for anyone else. His presence seeps into and overshadows everything. He wants Cory to be everything he is yet everything he isn’t.
The fence that he builds is symbolic of his need for control and to be the King of his domain. The fence aims to keep death out of his zone, yet it also aims to confine his family within its borders. The dichotomy is fascinating. Outside of the house he feels like a washed up nobody yet he also feels the need to retreat from the house in order to escape his responsibilities and feel good. This leads to an affair with another woman.
He takes pride in providing for his family yet he doesn’t provide them with the space, freedom and self expression that they so desperately need. He is a deeply flawed man but his intentions are ultimately good.
Viola Davis gives a stunning performance. Her character develops so beautifully throughout the film. The desire for life that she holds back from her husband and herself is heart breaking. It’s so heartbreaking because she allowed her husband to take up all the space and air in their realm. She finally understands that the big mistake she made was to not demand some room for herself.
The supporting cast is also strong and I believe that Fences will be one of my favourite films of 2017. Washington and Davis deliver powerful monologues that easily make them top contenders for Oscars in 2017.