Starring: Denzel Washington, Viola Davis, Stephen Henderson, Jovan Adepo, Russell Hornsby, Mykelti Williamson
Directed By: Denzel Washington
Plot: Based on the August Wilson play, Troy Maxson (Washington) is a sanitation employee working each day to support his family. He loves his wife (Davis) of 18 years, his second wife. He battles with their son (Adepo) who wants to play football in college. He muses on what could have been of his own ball career with his best friend (Henderson) and dreads the Fridays where his son (Hornsby) from his first marriage comes by to ask for money. He does all this while taking care of his mentally handicapped brother (Williamson). Of course, this is just the surface, and there’s a lot more beneath the surface.
what Works: The acting in this film is top notch. Viola Fucking Davis. Good lord. I haven’t seen a better performance by an actress this year, lead or supporting. Whatever category she ends up in, she deserves to win. I know we’re supposed to just be in love with Washington, but it was Davis who really brought home the film for me. Sure, Denzel does a fantastic job. But I can’t say the same thing about his performance. I can’t say his was the best performance I saw this year. Was it great? Sure. Is it his best? No. But Viola? This might just be her best performance, and the best performance by an actress this year. She’s absolutely heartbreaking, mesmerizing, and she goes toe to toe with Washington in every scene. Fences is a masterclass in acting. The entire supporting cast of men could all be nominated for Supporting Actor Oscars and I wouldn’t be mad. I’d give a slight edge to Stephen Henderson who makes it seem less like a role, and more like his actual life, and Williamson who seems to be at his best when he’s playing a mentally handicapped character, but Hornsby and Adepo both have great moments too as the suffering sons. If you love great acting, Fences is your film. Yes, it also has some really great costume design, and the dialogue is exceptional…
What Doesn’t Work: …but the movie is so long, and it’s almost all talking. Long scenes take place where nothing happens but talking. Lots of talking. This was a stage play, written for the stage, and with little scenery changes. Because of that, when you put it into a 2 hour 17 minute movie, it feels long and tedious. That’s why I can’t get behind Denzel’s direction, because he felt like he needed to keep every moment of the play, instead of trimming it down and telling the story in a more reasonable fashion. I think there’s a good ten minutes of dialogue here that could have been trimmed, which would have made for a tighter film.
Final Word: Much like Sully earlier this year, I’d still recommend Fences because the acting is just superb. The performances here will keep you engaged even when it seems like the film itself is dragging on. Hopefully we’ll be handing Viola Davis an Oscar this year, because she has rightly earned it.
Final Grade: B+