“Fences”: Powerful but Uneven

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“Fences” is directed by Denzel Washington and stars Washington along with Viola Davis, Stephen Henderson, Jovan Adepo, and Mykelti Williamson.  The film is based on the play by August Wilson in which both Washington and Davis starred in, and is about a man struggling to adapt to the changing ideas of racism, and it comes into full force once his son is attempting to be recruited by colleges, and it causes major issues within the family.

I was very excited to see this film as I have heard that the play on which this is based on is truly miraculous.  That, along with the two lead cast members reprising their award-winning roles and a powerhouse first trailer that is one of the best of the year, allowed me to come in with some lofty expectations.

The Good

The performances are absolutely what this film thrives on, and they deliver in each and every scene.  Denzel Washington in the lead here is brutal, powerful, and almost psychotic in a sense, and the performance he gives is a tremendous one.  Washington has loads of dialogue in this film to work with and he uses his play experience to really drive home his character with authority. Viola Davis was my favorite performance here, as she is the one that left the most impact emotionally on me.  Davis is brutally real here, giving it everything she has to go toe to toe with Washington, and she succeeds with flying colors.

There are some real great supporting performances to go along with the two powerhouse leads.  Stephen Henderson does solid work alongside Washington as his friend Mr. Bono, as does Jovan Adepo as the son, Cory.  Adepo is there for some of the most impactful scenes in the entire film, but I do wish he were there more in between them, as there are long periods of time where he is simply not on screen.  The performance that surprised me the most was Mykelti Williamson as Uncle Gabe. Williamson’s character is pivotal in understanding the backstory of Washington’s character, Troy, but that also has a lot to do with the excellent performance given by Williamson.  It is often hard to show mental illness correctly, as it can be a make or break performance in a film, so thankfully Williamson is on the ball with his role here, as he certainly helps keep the movie afloat.

The script, along with the performances, is what this film thrives on, and when the script is on, the movie is encapsulating in even the smallest of moments.  The delivery of August Wilson’s script by Washington and company is beautifully done with some terrific flare, and words alone make for some heartbreaking moments.  As teased in the trailer, Washington has these long monologues to describe his rough past as well as his current outlook on life, and often I found myself in awe with the words that were coming from him.  The same goes for Viola Davis, as she really explodes with emotion when the time calls for it, and she does it marvelously.

The nice cinematography done by Charlotte Bruus Christensen is often used to capture the struggles of certain characters, and it worked very effectively.  There are also some real pretty tracking shots of characters that I found visually pleasing to watch each and every time they were implemented.

The Bad

The pacing.  Look, much of this movie is set up exactly how a play would be, with one scene taking up a good ten to fifteen minutes and that time being almost completely filled with dialogue.  That kind of setup works for a play, but it doesn’t work seamlessly into a film.  There are beautiful, powerful moments in this script that are portrayed excellently here, but where Denzel Washington, the director, fails in adapting this material is how to keep the fire alive outside of these scenes.  I found my mind drifting quite often while characters began to ramble, and that’s because scenes seemed like they would get stale after awhile, and each time the story actually moved forward, it felt like a breath of fresh air.

Along with my mind drifting and scenes taking too long, the movie itself feels like it could shave a good twenty minutes off its runtime.  This would allow those tremendous scenes to come much faster and more frequently instead of being very spaced out, and I think it would have helped the film as a whole feel more coherent and exhilarating.

Conclusion

“Fences” is a phenomenally acted and well-written adaptation to the award-winning play by August Wilson.  Denzel Washington and Viola Davis are shoo-ins for noms, and deservingly so, and there are moments throughout this movie that are visceral and heartbreaking, but there are also many moments where I found myself losing all focus.  I have to be honest, when “Fences” isn’t at its peaks, it is straight up boring, with scenes that last too long and a direction that didn’t feel all that inspired.  There’s a movie of the year buried somewhere in here, but as it stands, I found “Fences” to be a slight disappointment, even with its strong positives.

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Get tickets and showtimes for “Fences” here

What did you think of “Fences”?  Comment below with your thoughts.


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