Washington Brings Pulitzer Prize–, Tony Award–Winning Play to the Big Screen in “Fences” (Review)

Dec 30, 2016

Fences (2016)
Paramount Pictures

Directed by: Denzel Washington
Produced by: Todd Black, Scott Rudin, Denzel Washington
Screenplay by: August Wilson
Based on: Fences by August Wilson
Starring: Denzel Washington, Viola Davis, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Jovan Adepo, Russell Hornsby, Mykelti Williamson, Saniyya Sidney

The Good

In case you’ve forgotten, Denzel Washington can act like no other. Not only did he direct this Broadway play adaptation, but he’s at the top of his game as the lead character as well. His delivery of anecdotes will keep you as intrigued as the other characters who listen attentively. What I really appreciated about Denzel’s character is that he is really complex. You don’t know whether to root for him, feel sorry, or hate him. In a sense, he is probably reflective of many parents or husbands that some people could easily relate to.

The cast and their great performances drive the entire film. Jovan Adepo (Cory) definitely holds his own in this star-studded cast. He is able to epitomize a son stuck between the emotions of love, respect, anger, frustration, and hatred. Russell Hornsby (Lyons) and Stephen Henderson (Bono) undoubtedly make their fair share of contributions as well.

Okay, now that I’ve gotten them out of the way, let me take a seat and catch my breath from Viola Davis’s AMAZING performance. Let me tell you something right now. If she doesn’t win Best Supporting Actress at the Academy Awards, something is entirely wrong with this planet. I mean, her “snot scene” is as real, powerful, and awesome as any actor could dream of performing. I don’t wear them, but if I wore pearls, they’d certainly be clutched tightly during her shining moment. She, without question, almost steals the entire movie away from Denzel. She makes a strong case for her role to be classified as a co-star rather than just a supporting role.

Beyond all that, there are some interesting plot twists and events in the film. Best of all, each of the events aid in developing the characters and stressing the relationships that they all share. There’s definitely plenty of relational topics that one could relate to in some fashion.

The Bad

Be prepared for a lot of monologues and dialogues. Fences isn’t really Hollywoodized in the sense that it gives you short, quick scenes from one event to another. As a result, the film’s pacing may feel like it drags and takes a while to get going during the first half. Fences has a lot of stories that can feel tangential and sometimes even repetitive (such as Denzel’s stories about playing baseball). For some, it may also be a little distracting to hear the N-word tossed around so casually in conversation. It’s not overboard like in a Quentin Tarantino film but enough to be noticeable.

The Reason

Fences is a great movie, especially if you like Broadway plays. It’s essentially a play shot for the big screen. The performances from all of the characters carry the film more so than the actual plot or story. If you’re a psychology major, you could have a field day in trying to analyze the various events and situations that shape each character.

Another important aspect of this film is the historical context it’s framed in. I’ll admit that I originally was a bit annoyed, for instance, with Denzel’s character constantly complaining about his past. However, when I was reminded of the fact that this story is set in the 1950s (pre–civil rights era), and Denzel’s character grew up during Jim Crow, things began to make a bit more sense. You understand why he sees and approaches things the way he does given his upbringing and the fact that he literally saw racism on an everyday basis.

I fully recommend checking out Fences. If the trailer draws you in, then you’ll be more than pleased with actual product.