Film Review: Fences (2016)

© 2016 Paramount Pictures. All Rights Reserved.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ – 4/5.

Author: Feargal Agard | Runtime: 139 min. | Director: Denzel Washington | Year: 2016.

Fences can be seen as a beautiful, artistically filmed theater work of art. Not only because it was originally a theater play that has also been performed on Broadway, but also because the film in an intriguing and subtle way reveals itself through the emotions and dialogue.

Fences takes place in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in the 1950’s. Troy Maxson (Denzel Washington) is a hardworking garbage man who is married to his wife Rose (Viola Davis) and together they have a son Cory (Jovan Adepo). He also has an estranged son from a previous relationship, Lyons Maxson (Russell Hornsby), who is a poor musician who often visits on fridays to ask for money. The last family member introduced in the film is Troy’s older brother, Gabriel Maxson (Mykelti Williamson) who became mentally impaired because of a head injury that he sustained during the Second World War. During his younger years Troy left his home because of his violent father and he became a robber to support himself. During his last robbery, he killed a man, which caused him to end up in jail. There he met Jim Bono (Stephen Henderson). After his release he became a talented baseball player, but he never got to play in the ‘Major League Baseball’. Just about every day is the same. Troy goes to work, goes home with his best friend Bono. They drink, have fun and share their everyday family moments together. With each new day, the family problems and secrets become more and more foregrounded. At one point, fights, infidelity, grief and pain take over the stage. Troy’s wife is very hurt by all the secrets and his son despises him.


© 2016 Paramount Pictures. All Rights Reserved.

Fences is a complex story in which the dialogue is central. The story is based on August Wilson’s play. He wrote the screenplay for this film as well. It is also interesting that the script was written by a playwright, because the dialogue and the underlying intentions are paramount in this film. In addition, the film is directed by Denzel Washington, not his first time, but it is always interesting when an actor directs his own film. Fences is very sensitive, meaning that the viewer slowly but surely discovers all the underlying thoughts and hidden situations of the characters. As a viewer, you get  emotionally involved with the characters, because of the unfair and painful situations. Almost all the characters go from a tranquil situation to a difficult period. Thanks to the uncomfortable, but recognizable moments we experience how realistic the plot of the film is. Allowing us to be able to identify ourselves with the characters. In everyday life, you do not necessarily constantly go through high dramatic moments. We are used to ordinary days where you unexpectedly  experience dramatic incident that come out of nowhere. There are so many details that gradually emerge, making it feel like a kind of Cluedo/Clue mystery game.

Denzel Washington’s (The Equalizer) performance is amazing. He portrays his character Troy in very realistic manner; a sweet and charming man who can be quite stubborn, mean and patriarchal. Especially in the beginning there are moments you like Troy, because he is a real entertainer, but as his lies emerge you will begin to experience him as unreasonable. Washington’s perfect execution of this role proves of his skills and depth. We are used to see Denzel Washington as a hero and a lovable person. Seldom do we see that he can also make us feel indifferent about his character.

Viola Davis (Suicide Squad, How to Get Away with Murder) plays a role that we might not be accustomed to see her perform. In How to Get Away with Murder she is a strong challenging woman, but in Fences she is the exact opposite. The modesty that she portrays makes you believe she really is a woman from the ’50s. She is calm, takes care of the family, supports her husband, is almost always in the kitchen and she tries to suffice to the ideal expected from woman at the time. Viola shows a vulnerable and fragile side when tempers run high. Her emotions are masterfully conveyed, causing us to pity her; she works so hard to keep her family together and her husband still manages to ruin them. The modesty that embodies her role can be seen as average, but remember that this is exactly what is expected from this character’s role, which she has perfectly performed.

The film is aesthetically not necessarily a spectacle. Then again this film is not about depicting spectacular picturesque images. This film is about intimacy, intelligent shots where the characters freely move through. The detailed mise-en-scène clearly portrays the ’50s, if you pay attention to the stove, milk bottles and pictures of Martin Luther King and John F. Kennedy, and much more. They live in a nice area of Pittsburgh. The cinematography displays a feeling of warmth, even though it later shifts to a darker tone. This is why Fences manages to intimately intrigue the spectator, making it a must-see film.

In Dutch theatres as from the 16th of Februari.

© 2016 Paramount Pictures. All Rights Reserved.