It’s all about the performances. So this is about a father (Denzel Washington). All he wants is to put in an honest day’s work, come home to a hot meal, go to bed and do it all again the following day, but of course, things are never that simple. Now this is based on a play that I have never seen. In fact, I have never seen anything from the playwright behind this: the late August Wilson. I know of him by name only, so this was my first true exposure to his work. Fences is terrific, and based on this story alone, I would love to see his other nine stories in the series that he calls The Pittsburgh Cycle.
This is an instance where the trailer tells you exactly what you’re in for.
This is a story that brings the drama. Even without a theatre background, you can probably identify that this is based on a stage play. It’s easy to see, based on how the scenes flow and how there is so much focus on the dialogue that make it scream “stage”, but it works just as well on the big screen. Both Denzel and Viola turn in powerhouse performances of equal quality, and when the situation escalates, it’s the best acting you will see all year (I won’t spoil anything, so I will just say: 18 years). They have a great chemistry, a good back and forth, and the dialogue just flows as smoothly as can be. They have performed this together on stage previously so they have a lot of experience embodying these people, which does nothing but strengthen the film as a whole. Denzel is playing a character who has stories for days, and whenever he is kicking back and recollecting, he has your full attention. There are poignant moments a plenty, and it really lets you know just how tough it can be supporting a family, but what makes Fences so brilliant is that it shows it from more than one angle, not just the masculine one. Viola Davis is spellbinding in this, and while I’m not certain why the Academy is listing her as supporting actress instead of lead, I still think she is a lock to win.
Runny nose and all.
I admire this because this is a story that gave me a different perspective. I am a white male, so I will never know how this particular family life can be. I also was born three decades too late to know anything about living in the 1950’s; race relations are way different now (although it sometimes feels like we are moving backwards with the political atmosphere the way it is). This is a story that I never once got bored with, and the first time I checked the clock was at the very tail end, during what would be considered to be the epilogue. It’s a terrific film, and all of the award nominations that this has received are well merited. It’s not feel good by any stretch of the imagination, but it is one of the best films that 2016 has to offer.
Fences (2016) ****1/2
– Critic for Hire
Want to see where this fell in my list of best films of the 2016? See for yourself here.