Fences – A Movie Review

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Though directed by Denzel Washington, Fences belongs to Viola Davis. I do not understand the intricacies of which category actors fall in for Academy Award consideration and, while he nomination (and her likely win) for Best Actress in a Support Role is well deserved, I cannot help but wonder why she was not nominated as Best Actress in a Leading Role. Regardless, in my opinion Denzel Washington is an incredible actor. In almost any film he is in, when he is on the screen, he almost always the most magnetic personality on it – his performances dominate, his are the character to which the audience is drawn. In Fences, Davis draws attention and energy as Rose, the wife of Washington’s Troy Moxson. She is utterly brilliant in the movie and her work illustrates – again – that she is the best actress of her generation. More roles for Davis, please. Leading roles for Davis, please.

Fences is a very straightforward adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize winning play by August Wilson. Wilson, in fact, adapted his play into this film. Washington and Davis had played their roles on Broadway and their familiarity with them and with each other is a tremendous asset to this movie. As one might expect, Fences is a wordy affair and Davis and Washington plow through the metaphor laden dialogue and though its ample poetics beautifully, even when they are saying ugly things to one another. Fences demanded top-of-the-line performances and got them from these stunning actors.

Perhaps it also demanded a director who was less devoted to the staging of the material. Denzel Washington directs here and this is not his first time in the chair. He creates a simultaneously vivid and dour picture of 1950s Pittsburgh but does not explore it. There are very few scenes set outside the Moxson home and yard and, while that is obviously how the play progressed, as a movie, Fences feels boxed in by Washington’s choices. Though the movie looks lovely, it also feels very, very small.

That feeling of smallness is in stark contrast to the thunderous performances of the stars and that contrast hurts the overall film.

Troy Moxson is a larger-than-life character, if not a particularly likable one.  He is a sanitation worker who feels life dealt him and his family (including his World War II wounded brother Gabe played by Mykelti Williamson) a bad hand. He is a man with a dark past whose love for his wife is broadly pronounced by whose love for his sons is tightly controlled. He is wrestling some fairly significant demons and they threaten to consume him, his wife and his children. The manner in which Washington and Davis clash through the various stages of this struggle is riveting to watch.

However, the film overall is not quite as riveting. Whether owning to the directorial choices or the idea that sometimes plays work better as plays, there seems to be something missing from Fences. I kept hoping for a higher gear that did not come. Fences is a movie that has amazing performances which make it worth watching. It is worthy of the Best Picture nomination it received, but it will not take away the prize.

FENCES receives FOUR BRILLIANT MONOLOGUES out of a possible FIVE. 



Filed under Academy Awards

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