REVIEW — “Fences”
Viola Davis is forgiven for Suicide Squad
Fences is directed by Denzel Washington and written by award-winning playwright August Wilson. It has a cast featuring Denzel Washington, Viola Davis, Stephen Henderson, Jovan Adepo, Russell Hornsby, and Mykelti Williamson and tells the story of an African-American father struggling with race relations in the United States while trying to raise his family in the 1950s and coming to terms with the events of his life. Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning play and the original playwright penning the script, I was very excited for Fences and luckily it does not disappoint. Fences is a powerful, spectacularly acted story with just enough cinematic elements to warrant a film adaptation.
Denzel Washington is directing here and this is by far his best work. Having made both Antwone Fisher and The Great Debaters he has certainly proved himself a worthy director. The entire running time of Fences is filling with very tense drama and although most scenes are simply conversations, this has me on the edge of my seat more than most of this year’s Horror movies. The tension is almost malleable and the actors bring a passion to the table and Denzel really does a great job capturing those performances. The biggest problem with Fences is an obvious one, it is not very cinematic. At times, it feels like we’re watching a stage play and really doesn’t have a reason for the big screen treatment. But it scrambles together enough reasons to justify its’ adaptation. While I’m not walking out of this raving about the taught direction, Washington does a more than commendable job here and I would be very interested to see what he does next.
August Wilson wrote the script and it is simply amazing. This is based off his award-winning play so it makes sense the script be as good as it is. If this doesn’t win for Adapted Screenplay I will be shocked. The dialogue is so great and rivals that of Tarantino and Sorkin. The script crafts such enthralling dialogue and interesting conversations, that in a story that is quite literally just conversations I was never bored. The characters he has created are so layered and nuanced I can’t imagine how he even began to write it. His dialogue is so raw and honest that any actor would jump at the chance to play these great roles. The only problem with this script is nothing about it is cinematic. I wouldn’t be surprised if this was a word for word adaptation of the stage play. Denzel does his best to make it a cinematic experience, and he does get it there, but it feels like a filmed play at times. The writing is great but if August added a little more cinematic elements to the story, Fences could be even better than it already is. It’s going to give Nocturnal Animals a real run for its money this awards season. A great, albeit theatrical, script.
Ok, let’s just get it out of the way. The acting in Fences is phenomenal. Every single actor is on the top of their game and there is not a weak performance in the bunch. They all give honest, powerful, and moving performances. Denzel Washington is like a fine wine and gets better with age. This is the best performance of his career and an Oscar would be earned. With this and The Magnificent Seven, he has truly had a great year. His character turns from a relatable working man to a monster and you’re captivated the whole time. Viola Davis is electrifying. She is giving the best performance of her career and maybe of the year. An Oscar would be earned a hundred times over for her. Jovan Adepo also does a great job. The entire cast does a great job and whether that’s a testament to Washington’s direction of Wilson’s script, I can’t say, but I can praise them all. The acting in Fences is great on all fronts.
Now on a technical level, this is where Fences starts to have some problems. This has a tough time being cinematic and it shows. The cinematography is very choppy and changes angels a lot. It’s strange, for a movie based on a play, there aren’t many long takes when there really should be. Long takes showcasing the amazing acting would have been very fitting and would have served as an excuse for it not being very cinematic. This year’s Manchester By The Sea had a mix of long takes and over edited scenes and Fences would have done well to take a page out of its book. Cinematography aside, nothing else is very special. The editing is choppy at times and the score isn’t very memorable. The acting doesn’t exactly make up for this mediocrity but it’s so damn good, you should see this regardlessly. Again, Fences is something to see for the acting alone.
In short, Fences showcases some of the year’s best acting, proves Denzel Washington as a director, and is just cinematic enough to be an entertaining and riveting time. I pray to god August Wilson keeps writing and Viola Davis keeps acting. 4/5