Review: Fences

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PLOT: A former baseball player-turned-garbage man (Denzel Washington) tries to reconcile his lost dreams of glory while raising a family in 1950’s Pittsburgh.

REVIEW: For those of you not in the know, FENCES is based on the 1987 Tony Award-winning play by playwright August Wilson. During the original run, stars James Earl Jones and Mary Alice won Tony’s, and the original run also helped launch the careers of Frankie Faison (“The Wire”) and Courtney B. Vance. The director and star of the big-screen version, Denzel Washington, also won a Tony for his role in the 2010 revival, as did co-star Viola Davis. The film itself is based on a screenplay Wilson wrote before his death in 2005, and the movie’s producer, Scott Rudin, also helped launch the stage revival.

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So, now that’s out of the way. How does the finished film fare? Here’s the thing – Denzel Washington clearly has a specific goal in mind, which is to film Wilson’s play in a reverential manner, committing it to posterity so it won’t be lost to time. In fact, he’s so committed to Wilson’s legacy; he’s signed-on to produce a series of HBO adaptations of his other plays.

As such, you shouldn’t go into FENCES expecting a conventional drama. This is very much a filmed play, with long monologues, stylized exchanges and a style that emphasizes performances over everything else. At first, FENCES feels a little awkward, in that it’s so different from anything out there. Eventually, it settles into a good rhythm, and the performances are exceptional all-around.

Washington’s perfect as Troy, a frustrated, middle-aged garbage man bitter over the part racism played in his foiled athletic career, although it’s suggested several times his own short-comings as a man, with a good chunk of his youth being eaten up by a stint in jail, played a part too. He oppresses his two sons, both of whom are hell-bent on pursuing their dreams – something Troy sees as foolish. He’s not a bad man – he’s more of a tragic hero in that there are good things about him (he’s devoted to his family financially – if not emotionally) but they’re always short-circuited by his ego.

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The only one who can really go toe-to-toe with him is his wife, Rose (Viola Davis), who loves Troy but also part-despises him for his mean-streak. She’s the only one he consistently treats with tenderness, but when he betrays her, Davis’s fury and eventual empathy for Troy becomes stunning to watch. As good as Denzel is, Davis is more than his match here.

It’s clear Washington adores his actors, and everyone gets their moment – perhaps to the movie’s overall detriment as it’s a bit lengthy at 134 minutes. It feels like Washington couldn’t bear to cut anyone’s good scenes, so it’s a bit indulgent – to a point. However, it’s not hard to sympathize, as the acting is superlative, from Stephen McKinley Henderson as Troy’s best pal Bono. Jovan Adepo and Russell Hornsby are both excellent as Troy’s sons, with Adepo especially getting a showcase part. Meanwhile, Mykelti Williamson has a very difficult role as Troy’s mentally challenged brother, but he makes it work – no easy feat as it’s the one role that could have gone disastrously awry with the wrong actor. He nails it.

Whether or not you’ll be interested in FENCES depends on your expectations. If you’re looking for something perhaps a little high-brow and don’t mind the staginess, for sure check it out. But, if you’re looking for a more conventional drama, this isn’t for you. Hopefully people give it a shot, as the acting is first-rate, and Washington’s passion for the project is there for all to see.

Source: JoBlo.com



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