So I watched Fences…
On the day I went to watch this film I had the choice between watching this film – which was nominated for multiple Oscars and, as such, was probably a fine piece of cinema or go watch the new xXx film which would no doubt rot my brain. The higher functioning part of my brain won out and I ended up watching this film and while it is a fine piece of cinema, a part of me wanted my brain to rot.
Okay, basic plot: Troy Maxson (Denzel Washington) is a working-class father living in the 1950s. Troy is a hard man who believes in responsibility over pleasure, duty over affection and that a man lives and dies by how hard he’s wiling to work. This causes friction between Troy and his wife, Rose (Viola Davis) as well as his son, Corey (Jovan Adepo). Troy is extremely tough on Corey believing that the boy would be better suited pursuing a blue-collar job instead of following his dream of playing football. Troy’s advice comes with more than a glimmer of envy over the fact that he could never achieve his dream of playing baseball professionally. Although always preaching the importance of hard work and duty, Troy has a secret. A secret that not only proves him a hypocrite but threatens to tear his family apart.
This film is based on a play and as you watch the film that fact becomes abundantly clear – both for good and bad. The film has a very intimate feel to it. Denzel Washington – who not only starred in the film but also directed it – does a fantastic job capturing scenes and blurring the lines between film and play. He does this by choosing a lot of “static” shots. By that I mean scenes have generally less cuts than you’d expect in a film. The camera stays focused on the scene as a whole and only cuts to show individual characters’ reactions to dialogue. This draws the audience in and makes them feel like the characters are a few feet away from them instead of pictures on a screen. There are also great monologues in the film – mainly from Denzel’s character Troy – which further help the film pay tribute to its Broadway roots.
The problem is that while this static shot technique works great in certain parts, it leaves the film feeling stagnant in others. Stagnation is actually a major problem in this film. Its story drags and its runtime of two hours feels extravagant and unnecessary There’s also an emotional depth lacking from this film. The story is one that I can relatively relate to as my father and I have never being overly close. There are literally pieces of dialogue in this film that I’ve thought or said (even if only to myself). With the film’s premise hitting so close to home, you’d think it would have left me in an emotional heap or at least resonated with me. It, unfortunately, just misses the mark. It feels as if the film is so preoccupied with being grand and a fine piece of cinema that it doesn’t make enough of an effort to connect with its audience.
I think a lot of this is also due to Jovan Adepo. Adepo does good work but it’s clear that he’s out of his depth. I can’t blame Adepo, it’s his first film and he has to hold his own against the likes of Denzel Washington and Viola Davis – most people in Hollywood would be drowning. Adepo is meant to be one of the emotional ports through which we connect to the film’s story. He unfortunately is both starved the dialogue and acting ability to properly portray the fear and anger that Corey feels towards his father. I think if Corey’s character had been given a bit more to do I really would have liked this film more.
Luckily, Denzel Washington is at hand to save this film. Denzel commands the screen. Troy is an obstinate, narrow-minded, uneducated man but one who speaks with purpose and passion. There’s a swagger and intensity to his character that will have you absolutely transfixed. Even when he’s being the most evil he can, you find something endearing in him. I guess that’s always the case in abusive relationships. If the husband was only a monster, the women would have left years ago. Viola Davis produces nothing short of brilliance in this film. Her role is a complicated one because she needs to portray submission to Troy’s character but also strength over him. She’s a captive but at the same time the warden of the prison she’s trapped in. It’s lovely to see the juxtaposition of strength and vulnerability in her character. Stephen Henderson also puts in an entertaining and masterful turn as Jim Bono – Troy’s best friend.
Now I don’t know if this film was intended to be as funny as it was but it had me in stitches at times. I actually had to see this movie twice because the cinema was often a cacophony of laughter and it made it difficult to hear the dialogue. The film is well-made and deserving of its Oscar nominations and win for Viola Davis but I think it needed to cut down on certain aspects from the play. It also needed to cut down on its runtime or at least offer an intermission.
Overall, Fences is fine cinema. It might not be the most entertaining film you’ll ever see but it has quality acting and Denzel does make some intelligent choices when it comes to his direction. It’s worth watching but there’s no need to run to the cinema for it. 7/10