Fences is an intricate observation of life led by two simply perfect performances, but the real star is the script.
Denzel Washington directs and stars in the adaptation of August Wilson’s Pulitzer prize winning play of the same name. Washington takes the lead of Troy Maxson, a waste collector in 1950s Pittsburgh who struggles to come to terms with the events of his life thus far. A former baseball player who never made it to the MLB, Maxson feels bitter at the way some of his life has turned out, but the best thing to ever happen to him was meeting his wife Rose (Viola Davis). Together they had a son, Cory (Jovan Adepo), who is being scouted for college football. Troy is a man who holds his beliefs strongly, refusing to give in or believe things have changed as a result of his own experiences. Because of this throughout the course of the film we watch as Troy, his family, and his friends, come into conflict with one another about how life should be lived, and their duty to one another.
Fences is not a visually dynamic film, few plays lend themselves well to that arena of the cinematic format. However what it lacks in this department is more than compensated for in the performances of its cast, and the development of its characters. From the off if you didn’t know you were watching a film adaptation of a play, then you’ll soon realise after the opening scene. Dialogue fills the space of flashy directing, acting as an story establishing onslaught. It ensures you know who Troy Maxson is and what he believes. Supporting characters bounce off him as merrily spouts stories and thoughts, happy that the weekend is here. However the jovial introduction to the character gradually sours as the film wears on. Troy is a complex man whose own stubborn beliefs often get in the way of others lives, especially that of his son Cory when he refuses to sign papers from college recruiters. Because of his flaws, and his nature, Troy is as human a character you can write, and Denzel brings him to life brilliantly. Whether he’s sharing embellished recollections about fighting the grim reaper when stricken with pneumonia, or forcing authority on his son, Troy is an intriguing character to watch. His wife Ruth is equally captivating thanks to a powerful and emotionally charged performance from Viola Davis that warrants every ounce of acclaim.
What affords the cast to shine so bright though are the exceptional characters and their stories. Intelligently written with a deep history, they provide a sturdy platform for the cast to perform on. There is no need for car chases or gun fights here because the dialogue has infinitely more substance to chew on. Fences is a minimalist film, noticeably and purposely so. Its pacing towards the end is also out of sync with the rest of the film, but after you’ve finished admiring the performances, Fences will leave you looking at your own life and how you live it. Then you’ll remember again how magnificent all the acting was.