“Fences” is directed by Denzel Washington based off of the Pulitzer Prize winning play by August Wilson. The films stars Denzel, Viola Davis, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Jovan Adepo, Russell Hornsby, Mykelti Williamson and Saniyya Sidney. The film follows an African American father who struggles with his life as a garbage truck driver. The film shows race relations and the struggles of raising a family in a post world war 1950’s. The film is very much a direct adaptation of the stage play by Wilson who died in 2005. As is in the play, Denzel takes on both actor and director here, giving us once again another hard hitting performance.
I was never familiar with the play itself until I saw the film. “Fences” is one of those movies I think best suited for stage. The film was very long, drawn out with some serious dialogue that was excellent but again I have to go back to my statement: I think this story is better suited as a play rather than a film adaptation. I knew going in that this film was based on the play, but once the film got going, and going and going, the more bored I became. I don’t mind really good dialogue, heck I love great dialogue, but when the characters talk to much you feel like your suffocating for a breath of fresh air it isn’t a good sign. There was never a moments peace in this movie to reflect, or let the characters reflect on their mistakes in the story. There wasn’t a whole lot of emotional suffering in this film because we weren’t allowed to see it. We only were administered the language and beauty of the character’s lives.
As far as the performances go, they were great. Viola Davis was the real standout here and there is a scene between her and Denzel’s character where she breaks down yelling and crying that was the standout moment for me in the film. I think it was the standout because it was the only moment in the entire movie where we felt for these characters. This was truly a dynamic moment for her character and that scene was Oscar worthy. Denzel was great as usual and the other actors did a fine job in their roles. They acted the hell out of this thing. Is this Oscar worthy? I don’t think so, minus that scene with Viola Davis. But the acting wasn’t the issue that I had with “Fences.”
The real issue with the movie went twofold. The first being that there wasn’t a story. There wasn’t a plot so to speak. The entire film was a window. It was a window in which we were looking at the lives of a struggling African American family in the 1950’s. This film was a glimpse into the past and nothing more. I was waiting for the story to unfold and gosh darnit it never did. The other problem that I had with the film was the setting. I get that the backyard was so important to the play, but when almost the entire film takes place in a backyard with nothing but talking it feels a little claustrophobic. I felt trapped in a way and also talked to death. For me, I was simply just bored. I could not relate to any of the characters, the characters for the most part were despicable, especially Denzel’s character and I just wasn’t engaged with this material.
It’s kind of a shame because I love Denzel’s films and I love him as an actor but this one really disappointed me. It was overlong, slow and at times incredibly boring from the insane amount of dialogue that was thrown out from the screen. I think the actual premise sounds intriguing but as the story unfolds there’s just nothing there to show, or anything to take away. The film is in many ways depressing and lacks a lot of hope. Not every movie has to have a happy ending but since it’s the holidays, I was wishing for something a little more light on the human spirit. This is no “Manchester by the Sea” depressing but it weighs heavy on you.
“Fences” isn’t a great movie and I think some might really enjoy it. The acting is terrific but the infinite amount of dialogue and lack of a real story made me really not care for this picture. There wasn’t a lot of audience enthusiasm when the film ended and no one was talking about it on the way out of the theater. I think this is a film you see once and forget about it’s really nothing memorable. I will say if you’ve seen everything out there and want to give it a try, try it but know that it’s a lot of talking in a backyard. Denzel is still great in my book, but “Fences” was not my cup of tea.