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Fences (2016)

December 28, 2016

Starring: Denzel Washington, Viola Davis, Stephen Henderson, Jovan Adepo, Russell Hornsby

Bottom Line: There is no question that Fences has some of the best acting you will see from any film this year. Denzel Washington and Viola Davis give absolute knockout performances that are both shoo-ins for Oscar nominations and strong contenders to capture the statues. Granted, I haven’t seen most of the award contenders yet, but Washington and Davis give the two best performances I’ve seen this year. They are truly stunning. Totally heartbreaking.

Even though it never specifically places its setting, one can gather from various tidbits of information (i.e. Pennsylvania licence plates, references to Roberto Clemente’s career) that Fences takes place in Pittsburgh sometime in the mid-1950s. Washington stars as Troy Maxson, a garbage man and former baseball star, whose prime passed before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier of Major League Baseball. His experience has left a bitter taste in his mouth so when his son shows an interest in football he immediately nixes the idea, citing the injustices of the past and ignoring the progress of the present, dismissing athletics as nothing but dead ends and empty dreams for a young black man. Viola Davis plays Troy’s loyal and loving wife of 18 years and the script really does a great job of showing the strength of their marriage while dropping hints that Troy is becoming attracted to another woman.

While watching the film, I thought there was something strange about the way it was being presented. It’s incredibly dialogue heavy and the whole story plays out like a series of long scenes. It’s actually quite noticeable. Upon doing some research, I discovered that Fences was actually a Pulitzer Prize winning play written by August Wilson that has had multiple Broadway runs – including one that starred Washington and Davis in these very same roles. So the fact the film adaptation feels eerily similar to a play actually makes a lot of sense. Most of the criticism I have read for Fences has mentioned how little it deviates from its source material, but even though I noticed a stage-like presentation, it didn’t take away from my enjoyment of the film at all.

What did take away from my enjoyment a bit was the last 30 minutes or so of the film. I felt like it could have ended properly three of four times before it finally did.

Even though it’s almost entirely lacking in action, Fences is a character-based drama that touches on the whole gamut of human emotion. Despite it’s incredibly talky nature, Fences is still riveting and full of surprises. It will entertain you, make you laugh, break you heart, and probably make you cry. Washington and Davis are truly amazing here, but really the whole cast deserves credit for their work – it’s a total acting clinic. Fences is a must see film for the performances alone, but the script does a great job of developing its characters and keeping the audience entranced with captivating dialogue. It does overstay its welcome a bit, but I’d highly recommend seeing Fences at least once.

Replay Value: It’s not the kind of film most people would want to watch over and over again, especially with an ending that drags on forever, but I’d watch it at least once more.
Sequel Potential: None.
Oscar Potential: Washington and Davis are guaranteed Oscar nominations and both of them would be my front runners to win the awards at the moment. There’s an outside chance it could get nominated Best Picture or Best Adapted Screenplay, but I’ll guess it just gets the acting noms.

Grade: 7/10 (highly enjoyable/must see)

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