Fences, directed by Denzel Washington, is a brilliantly focused look on some truly honest and damaged individuals who all bring so much of their lives to the table. The film is limited in what it offers, but what it offers is just so commanding that you almost never notice. I was engrossed in the meaty, real feeling dialogue, and I genuinely became connected to the lives of the characters. So much so that I almost wanted to stand up and start shouting at some of them. But people may struggle with the length of the film (due to how limited in scope it is). I know I found many things to love, but is it enough to make this film worth seeing? Well, let’s get this review underway and see.
The film tells the story of, Troy Maxson – played by Denzel Washington – and his family and friends: Rose Maxson (his wife) – played by Viola Davis – Cory Maxson (his son) – played by Jovan Adepo – and Jim Bono (his best friend) – played by Stephen Henderson – and a few more. We are brought into the everyday lives of these characters, and at first fall for just how genuine and endearing they are. But, as the film progresses that genuineness starts to reveal itself as the ugly honesty that comes with most people, and we watch the slow, unpleasant dismantlement of this group of very real feeling individuals.
This is a film that above everything else is one about characters and their stories, plain and simple. And it does an incredible job of bringing them to life. In fact how, Fences achieves it is multifaceted.
The one I of course must begin with is the actors who portray them. Denzel Washington is perhaps one of my favourite actors; he is an actor who always delivers (in my opinion) and is always so deep in the layering and thought he brings to a character. This film is no different. What he brings to the character of Troy is so detailed and so engrossing, I couldn’t help but be magnetised to the bigger than life persona that he exuded. But then there was also the side to Troy that wasn’t on show for everyone (unless he’d had a drink of course), and that side of Troy really brought something dark to the surface, and to my attention – it at times made my blood boil.
Standing next to Denzel Washington – and Troy – was Viola Davis (Rosie Maxson) and if this isn’t a powerhouse of an actress, then I don’t know what it is. Not only is she an actress that is unafraid to always bring it, she is an incredibly powerful part of this film. Everyone knows someone like Rose, and that’s why I think this film (and the play) have such an internal reaction from people (me included) and that internal reaction was something I very much wanted to unleash at times, while watching the film.
I wasn’t prepared for/expecting the journey that Fences was going to take me on. The way in which it played with my expectations of the characters and their lives; the way in which it almost cruelly ingratiated me with this family and then when I didn’t see it coming, pulled the rug out from under me, was something that just… it just pulled me in further than I already was, and made me such a part of the heartache and the unfairness of it all. It’s a film about people; people who you believe in, and when it shows you the reality of people, it makes for something so engaging.
There is just a level of detail and honesty to the characters in this film; we spend such extended periods of time with them, and a lot of that is thanks to how the film is structured. Fences was originally a play – one that both Denzel Washington and Viola Davis performed more than 140 times on stage, and that’s something that is clear to see in the film. They know everything that is needed to know for each scene and they are so faultless in their delivery of every word, movement and reaction that the scene calls for. It transplants its structure from the stage and puts it to film, and what it does is bring a very different feel, when you’re watching it.
Scenes play out at a length that is uncommon in today’s cinema, meaning you really need to pay attention. But in those scenes is so much information; whether it is something that enlightens you to a character’s past, or it is something that will completely shift the entire lives of the characters going forth – Fences is a film that never turns its spotlight away from what it has chosen to be its point of illumination. You will be a part of their lives, and you will really see the pleasant and unpleasant trials of… life.
But with the film being so faithful to the play, it does mean that it is limited in its overall scope. Fences isn’t there to wow you with set-pieces, or grandiose shots. It just wants to tell a simple story about some people and their lives. For me, it was more than enough, and those individual’s everyday lives had me completely engrossed. Though I think a general audience member will struggle with the film, if for no other reason than the runtime. Fences is 2 hours and 20 minutes long, and with its focus being too small and concise, I don’t think there is enough to keep everyone engaged and entertained for that amount of time.
In the end though, I really enjoyed my time with Fences and I feel I got so much more than I was expecting. Those characters felt realer than most, and their story really did leave an impact on me.
So I will be recommending Fences. A ‘best picture’ nomination that is deserving of its recognition and also just a damn good film.
What are your thoughts on Fences? Let me know in the comments down below. Liked what you read and would like to know when I post new reviews? May I suggest either following my blog directly, or following me over on Twitter – @GavinsRamblings. Thank you so much for reading my review and I hope you liked it enough to return at some point.