Tom Van Kalken | 9/02/2017
‘Fences’ is a difficult movie to review. As a lover of theatre, it’s difficult to differentiate between screen and stage when the film I’m watching is almost a carbon copy of its source material.
Of course I’m referring to August Wilson’s 1983 play ‘Fences’. The production, which received the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1987, has now been adapted for the silver screen by Denzel Washington who, along with his co-star Viola Davis, reprise their roles as Troy and Rose Maxson after preforming the show on Broadway together during it’s revival in 2010. It’s only natural that the film would then lend itself to comparison to its theatrical source. And in this sense the film is almost identical. Despite adding a few locations and dialling back the characters physicality, the film’s scripting, blocking and acting screams theatre.
This theatrical tone comes as no surprise. The film’s adaptation was done by August Wilson himself, and follows his original source material almost to a tee. The film follows the life of Troy Maxson (Denzel Washington), a sanitation worker from mid-century Pittsburgh. Troy is haunted by his past, disillusioned by white culture, whilst struggling with abandonment issues from his childhood. Throughout the film we see how, despite his best efforts, these grievances have come to shape the person he is and how they now threaten to tear his family apart.
The film’s highlight is the acting master class put on my Washington and Davis. Their chemistry on screen is palpable and a testament to the 113 Broadway performances they did together in 2010. Davis’ performance in particular stood out as one of the most visceral and striking portals of heartache seen on screen in years. Davis’ co-star also happened to be her director, with Washington returning for his 3rd directing credit. The film is by far Denzel’s most critically acclaimed directorial attempt, but there is a reason his name was left off the list for Best Director at this year’s Oscars, in which the film is nominated for four awards. There are choices throughout the film that highlight Washington’s inexperience when it comes to direction. One scene in particular stands out; where the clouds part and a single beam of light bathes the cast in a warm orange glow. It’s cliché moments like this that take away from what is otherwise a beautifully realistic portrayal of a broken man. Having said this, these minor indiscretions are not enough to take away from what is, at the end of the day, a striking film that has earned its place among this years’ Best Picture line up.
Despite some cliche moments from inexperienced director Washington, this is a powerful screen adaptation of the play, and features an outstanding performance from Viola Davis.