Set in 1950s Pittsburgh, Fences is a story of fatherhood, as told through the perspective of Troy Maxson (Denzel Washington). With the film confined to predominantly just one location, his home, we get to know the ins and outs of his day-to-day life. He’s a garbage man, working hard every day with his best friend of many years, Bono (Stephen Henderson), while constantly wishing for a promotion. For eighteen years, Troy has been married to Rose (Viola Davis), who spends her days trying to be the best wife she can be, also looking after their son, Cory (Jovan Adepo). They have the makings of what should be a perfect family, but as the film goes on, it’s discovered that this isn’t the case, tension surrounding their every interaction.
There’s nothing displayed here that’s able to distinguish the two from one another, the cinematics lost in the process of bringing this award winning play to the big screen. That’s not in reference to the craft itself, as Denzel Washington does do the best he can. The sets made feel real, as if pulled right from this time period, the cinematography capturing it as well as can possibly be. But it’s restricted. There’s very little movement to be found, every scene drawn out and comprised entirely of exposition, thirty minute blocks frequently feeling like one big, long monologues. They’re not, but they come close, something that may have been effective on stage, but not on film.
The thin plot does make the already long runtime feel even longer, but the thing saving this film from total boredom are the performances. Each of the five main adult actors were all a part of the play’s revival back in 2010, clearly proving that they’re all the right choices for the part. The dialogue is lengthy and rich with emotion, well written but easily could’ve been a drag had it been in the hands of a less talented group of actors. Thankfully, this is not the case, as every single person here gives it their all and goes up and beyond all previous expectations I’d had for them. A lot of buzz has been surrounding these performances, and not one failed to deliver.
For a film driven by its family drama, the tension is rarely felt. So many moments throughout are meant to come across as intense, putting you on the edge of your seat, but it could never be felt. The scene from the first trailer, featuring Cory confronting his dad about not liking him, is one of the few moments where I felt anything towards these characters. The seriousness of the situation at hand finally appeared, reappearing once more in the earlier mentioned scene with Viola Davis. Sympathy can be felt towards everyone, but I didn’t necessarily care for many of them, in particular Troy. His beaten past shaped him into the man he is today, and that man isn’t one I enjoyed watching on screen, perhaps adding to the reasons why I found this film is be nothing more than decent.
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