Starring: Denzel Washington, Viola Davis, Stephen Henderson, Jovan Adepo, Mykelti Williamson.
Living in the U.K. during award season can be a bitch. The film’s that have been poured over and enthused about for months by our American cousins may By on a stupidly limited release, or worse still, not even out yet. After a brief wait I finally, 3 days after the Oscars I may add, got to see Fences.
The Maxsons are a family living in 1950’s Pittsburgh, Patriarch Troy is a garbage man and failed baseball player who’s age prevented him getting to the major leagues before the dawn of black players being commonplace in the sport. An angry, embittered Troy rules over his home with a rod of iron, supported by his long suffering wife Rose and at constant war with son Cory who is a talented Football player with a chance of making it as a professional. With a life that revolves around setting the world to rights with his best friend and trying to care for his brain damaged brother, Troy has a secret that will set in motion a chain of event that will change all of their lives forever.
It is very clear to see as to why Fences has received so much attention this awards season. Adapted from the successful Broadway play who’s 2010 revival starred both Denzel Washington and Viola Davis, Washington succeeds fantastically in bringing Fences to the screen, as a director AND an actor. As Troy, Washington is commanding and magnetic, he draws you in during his lengthy conversations with friend Bono, repulses you with his actions toward his family but also succeeds in some small amount to elicit some sympathy toward Troy. The performance that owns this film is given by Viola Davis. It is very clear to see why she won her Best Supporting Actress Oscar (why it wasn’t Best Actress is beyond me) her interplay with Washington is immensely believable not doubt tuned to perfection by their time on Broadway. She is tender and understanding and later giving way to a rage and grief as the story progresses, it is a fantastic set of performances by the two leads. Some great support is offered by Jovan Adepo as their son Casey, happy and hopeful, later twisted into a frustrated and angry young man. The biggest conflicting performance for me comes from Mykelti Williamson as Gabriel. There is nothing wrong with Williamsons performance per say but it is a character performance that probably translates better on stage than on celluloid, it can feel a little caricature at times.
There is no denying when watching Fences that this is an adapted play, it feels very much like a play, the staging, the extended periods of dialogue but it works. It may feel a tad overlong without the benefit of a interval but is understandable and more than tolerable due to the incredible performances on display. The overlying metaphor of the Fences growing over the course of the film, keeping death at bay and keeping Troys family contained which would be a central point of the play translates just fine to the screen, nothing is lost in translation. If you are a fan of theatre, Fences is a triumph of stage to screen execution that you should definitely check out if you can.