Starring: Denzel Washington, Viola Davis, Jovan Adepo
Director: Denzel Washington
Running Time: 138 mins
Fences is an American film following a working-class African-American man who tries to raise his family during the 1950s, all the while coming to terms with the highs and lows of his own life.
You can tell that Fences is adapted from a hit Broadway play. It’s very theatrical, slow-burning, and extremely dialogue-heavy. In that, it may not be for everyone, and it definitely takes a while to get into its stride. However, once the film hits its peak in the second and third acts, the excellent central performances really come into their own, making for a fascinating and intense drama.
The place to start with this film is the man at the centre of it all, Denzel Washington. First off, this is a very well-directed film. In particular, Washington directs the film’s most emotionally intense moments brilliantly, bringing in dynamic camera work and heightening all the film’s sensory outputs in order to show you how close the characters are to boiling point.
What’s more is that Fences feels a lot like a theatrical stage play. Although I may have liked to see something slightly more cinematic in the first act, Washington strikes the perfect balance later on, with a brilliant combination of the theatrics of the stage and the beaten-down, gritty nature that film can portray so well.
Another huge positive, and perhaps the best part of the whole film, is the performances. Again, Denzel Washington is absolutely brilliant as the main character, a man who struggles to come to terms with some of the injustice he has faced in his life, and ends up turning some of that anger on his family. The brilliant thing about his performance is that, whilst it’s clear that his character isn’t the most level-headed or sympathetic, there is always something there that makes you care about what he’s feeling, making him a far more interesting enigma than I expected.
Meanwhile, Viola Davis also gives a fantastic performance. I’d debate the idea of her being a supporting actress, but maybe that’s just because her presence is so strong in the film. Normally, when placed alongside a very loud and unpredictable character like Denzel Washington’s, a co-star may be slightly obscured. That’s not the case with Viola Davis, as she gives an emotionally powerful and enthralling turn as a committed housewife, but who isn’t entirely comfortable with her life either, and that introduces yet another fascinating layer of emotion to look into as the film’s story develops.
Speaking of the story, I do have a few issues. Whilst this is a fascinating film, and features some emotionally enthralling sequences, I have to say that that’s not always the case. The weakest part of the film is undoubtedly the first act, which develops at a very slow pace, and such is the heavy reliance on stage-like dialogue (you can really tell the difference between screen and stage here), that it’s not always the most riveting watch.
Without a doubt, a film doesn’t have to move at a million miles an hour to be interesting, but the first act in particular really does drag, largely due to the fact that you have so much dialogue being thrown back and forth, and not all of it feels entirely integral to the development of the story.
Overall, I think Fences is an excellent drama featuring brilliant directing and Oscar-worthy performances. It’s a fascinating story of people coming to terms with their life both in the past and the present, whilst it has some amazingly intense moments of emotional power. However, I do suggest that you go into this film knowing how much like a stage play it plays out, simply because there are periods where its theatrical nature can bog the film down a bit, meaning it’s not always as enthralling a watch as it could be, so that’s why I’m giving this a 7.6 overall.