Two-time Oscar winner Denzel Washington directs and stars in this drama about a struggling father raising a family in racially-intolerant 1950s America.... More
Based on the Pulitzer-winning play by August Wilson, who adapts his own stageplay for screen. Co-stars Viola Davis (The Help), a two-time Oscar nominee before making history as the first black woman to be nominated three times - in the running for Best Supporting Actress as Rose Lee Maxson, the wife of Washington's character.Hide
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BY Liam Maguren Flicks Writer
There is one thing you must know before you see Fences: there is a LOT of talking. “No duh,” say the people who are well aware of the late August Wilson’s Pulitzer-winning play that he also adapted for this screen version. For the rest, you need to go into this for the love of great acting and superb writing. Do that and you’ll be rewarded.... More
Denzel Washington plays a husband and father in mid-1900s Pittsburgh, a man who trudged through racist America and his own unfulfilled dreams to provide a home for his family working as a rubbish man. You believe he’s a decent person until you see how he treats his house like a spit-shined trophy, abusively kept in place by the son he envies (Jovan Adepo) and the housewife he doesn’t fully appreciate (Viola Davis). One by one, his demons come out to push you towards the edge of your sympathy.
Not since Ralph Fiennes in Coriolanus has an actor self-directed a performance with such command, delivering his monologues on a self-raised pedestal that feels true to his character (as opposed to feeling ‘on-stage’). But if Washington’s performance is the arm that strangles the neck, then Davis’ is the knife that punctures the throat, occasionally lifting her character’s mask to reveal years of pain and dissatisfaction in dam-bursting floods of emotions. In comparison, poor Adepo is a poodle in a swimming race.
As a director, Washington does the bare necessities to make the material work. The music is sparse, the camerawork unflashy, the editing focused, and the art department never more than appropriate. Such simplicity would drag most films down a notch, but with dialogue this dense and performances this complex, it makes sense to put everything else aside to let these two elements shine.Hide
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BY cinemusefilm superstar
The sparse plot is framed around a set of domestic vignettes that are found in any family, regardless of colour. Troy Maxson (Denzel Washington) is a jovial, larger than life, might-have-been-famous baseball player who works at the dirty end of a garbage truck. Both his sporting ambitions and desire for promotion have been stymied by racial discrimination, so sport and work are recurring metaphors. His devoted and tolerant wife Rose (Viola Davis) is the peacemaker between Troy and his two sons. Young Cory (Jovan Adepo) is keen to pursue his own sporting ambitions but is blocked by Troy. Older son Lyons is a musician who drops in every payday to ask Troy for money. Scenes of father and son conflict recur to the bitter end, punctuated by the impacts of Troy’s infidelity. A brain-damaged brother Gabe enters the stage regularly to speak non sequiturs with lyrical messages, like a court jester offering snippets of garbled wisdom. Troy desperately wants to assert masculine dignity but the world of the 1950s had no respect or place for people of his colour. Without respect he is just “a black man who has two strikes against you before you’re even born”. Life is stacked against men like Troy, but worse without a woman like Rose.
It is easy to see this as a filmed play rather than a play adapted to film. The wide-frame setting turns Troy’s backyard into a place where he holds court within his kingdom where fences are for keeping in and locking out. The colour palette evokes an era of rich vibrant tones that reflect African-American heritage punctuated with rhythm and blues musical themes. Troy and Rose are the quintessential black American strugglers forgotten by history and ignored by the newly rising racial consciousness of the times. The generation that followed were promised better lives while they were left with the crumbs of the American dream, a dream that belonged to white people.
The two stars push their performances to the limit: Denzel doesn’t play but is angry, conflicted, unfulfilled; Viola is strong, altruistic, hopeful of a better life. Their performance duet is a memorable tour-de-force. Troy has spent his life both building and fighting fences, but what he most craves comes too late. This film feels like live theatre with intimacy of characterisation and dense lyrical dialogue delivered with authenticity and depth. It is classic powerhouse drama.Hide
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