Directed by Denzel Washington
Denzel Washington and Viola Davis are a tour de force in this film. I normally start my reviews trying to encapsulate the plot and tone before moving onto talking about individual performances, but these two actors can not be ignored. This film centres on Denzel Washington’s character of Troy Maxson as we follow him through what becomes the most extreme example of a midlife crisis you might ever see on film. He feels trapped by his obligations to his family and lives his life on edge. You can see the stresses of 1950’s life weigh on him heavily and at the same time watch as he releases that stress in non constructive ways. He’s a man struggling with change and was taught that life is always against you. He’s an extremely complex character that Denzel is conveying to the audience through powerful, complex and honest dialogue that is loaded with subtext. Denzel is an accomplished Oscar winning actor, who certainly doesn't need my help to pump his tires, but I will shout from the rooftops that this man deserves to win Best Actor this year. I’ve seen him in countless films but he still manages to disappear into this role. A role that demands precise execution. Fences uses long takes and asks him to go through several different emotions in one shot before a cut. It’s acting magic on screen and is what makes this film soar.
The same can be said for Viola Davis’ character of Rose, nominated for Best Supporting Actress; I would be floored if she doesn’t take home the trophy. There isn't a single poor performance in this film and yet Viola and Denzel shine brightest. As Troy’s wife Rose is tasked with keeping the family whole while Troy unintentionally tears it apart. She’s really the emotional backbone of the film that all comes together in one standout scene that I think not only won her the Oscar but probably put this movie into the Best Picture race as well. It’s extremely powerful and if you had been struggling to find a purpose to this movie this scene provides it.
Fences is adapted from a Tony winning stage play of the same name. The play and the film are both written by August Wilson, who unfortunately passed away in 2005 but he has received a posthumous nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay. The film is permeated by a feeling that feels true to its roots on the stage. With very few locations, it takes place mainly on one set, and distinct act breaks I’d imagine the script for this film looks very similar to the one he used on Broadway. This is something that might hold it back when it comes to winning Best Picture. As much as the performances are powerful, you could argue that it’s almost as if they just filmed a play. The Academy might look to a more traditional film with a capital F and leave rewarding these types of experiences to the Tonys.
There’s little to say about the technical aspects of this film. The score is very subdued. There are long stretches of the film with no music at all. It, again, puts the weight on the shoulders of the actors and is certainly not manipulative in any way. The camera work is strong, if uncomplicated. As I mentioned they use a lot of long takes but they don't make things too hard on themselves and will use traditional cuts when needed.
If I somehow didn’t make it clear, Fences lives and breathes off the performances in this film. Beyond Denzel and Voila, the supporting cast involved does a remarkable job as well. It’s what makes the movie so rewarding to watch. That being said, this is Troy Maxson's movie. A man going through life with a chip on his shoulder, a man who, even with all his yelling about being unafraid of death, ultimately lives his life through fear and regret. Fear of his son making the same mistakes he made, fear of not being able to support his family, regret over wasting his life. He’s such a likable man but with so many flaws it's hard to get behind him. It’s what makes the final act of this film so strong. My emotions revolving around Troy are complex and the film certainly doesn't lean one way or the other. It just lays it all out for you and let’s you decide. I decided to love this movie.
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