Fences (2016)

Synopsis: A working-class African-American father tries to raise his family in the 1950s, while coming to terms with the events of his life.

For more info and to watch the trailer, click here: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2671706/

Who chose it: Leah

Why I chose it: My main reason for wanting to see this film was Viola Davis. She is an incredible actress and from watching the trailer, I knew there would be some stellar performances in this movie.

Brent’s Review:

“Fences”, starring Denzel Washington and Viola Davis, is a film adapted by August Wilson from his stage-play. It is not a short film. It has limited set pieces, few characters, and a plot that relies more on dialogue than action. The highest compliment that can be paid a film daring to take this approach is that it is not boring — and “Fences” is not boring. The film is expertly paced, well-directed, and wisely leverages the film’s strongest asset: its acting.

At the film’s core are the two stunning performances of Washington & Davis. This film draws on all parts of Washington’s diverse acting range. He is called to be goofy, dry, remorseful, and (especially) angry — sometimes all within within the same scene. As good as Washington is, Davis steals the show. She disappears into the character many times throughout the film in the way only truly great performers are able. Plot details demand my being vague, but I must note that the film’s two stars share a lengthy scene together near the midway point that is one of the best acted scenes I’ve ever had the privilege of watching. This single scene justifies the price of admission. The ensemble cast is also strong, especially noting Jovan Adepo as Washington & Davis’ son “Cory”.

Next I will discuss the directing, a detail sure to be overlooked in this film. Washington is more known for his work on camera than behind it, but his work in “Fences” deserves recognition. The script is stage-bound, which means the director faces the temptation to spice things up with flashy camera techniques or the inverse temptation to take the easy way out with stationary cameras and gentle zooms. Washington walks the tightrope: he isn’t flashy, but he isn’t boring. The audience is always in the right place to see what needs to be seen and the end result is very effective.

Finally, a word on the pacing of the film. “Fences” relies on the revelation of secrets for dramatic effect, which requires a deft hand in the editing department. Each of the film’s revelations carry their own dramatic weight, but ultimately they are used to build into the film’s climax in which one character references them within one brilliant line of dialogue. Wilson’s writing is excellent, but the editing drives this home — Hughes Winborne (and undoubtedly Washington) deserve high praise for their efforts.

The film’s marketing may lead you to believe that “Fences” is a feel-good story, but I believe that’s due in part to the fact that all of Denzel Washington’s movies are billed as feel-good or fun movies. Make no mistake: “Fences” is not easy to watch. You will feel angry. You will feel sad. You may laugh, but this is not a feel-good movie.

Adjust your expectations before seeing this film, but the end product will surely not disappoint.

P.S. – Baseball is a common metaphor in the film, so it might help to brush up on the terminology before watching.

Leah’s Review:

I went into the theater to see “Fences” with very little knowledge of the story. I knew it was based on a play (that I had never heard of), I knew it starred Denzel Washington and Viola Davis, and (from watching the trailer) I also knew it was intense and likely not a “fun” film to watch. However, it peaked my interest.

“Fences” is essentially a story about the American Dream. The playwright August Wilson shows this through a lens not often used for a story on this topic- that of a struggling African American family (as I understand it, most of his plays are similar in nature). Troy Maxson (played by Washington) goes back and forth between just making it through the week and pursuing this dreams. He wants a better life for his family then what he had, but he often makes the same mistakes as his father in this pursuit. It is a struggle between duty and desire- and we see the outcomes of both sides of this struggle.

The dialogue in “Fences” is fast- you’ll want to make sure you’re paying attention in order to keep up. Though most scenes take place in the same setting (the interior or back yard of the Maxson home)- this is a quick-moving story that takes your emotions on a roller-coaster ride. Sometimes, it’s funny. Other times, it’s frustrating. Most of the time, it’s simply heartbreaking.

Where “Fences” really shines though, is the acting. The story is a riveting one, to be sure- but what makes it come alive are the performances of the actors. There are times where you can tell the film has been adapted from a stage play (and that can be distracting at times if you are a theater nerd like me), but I found myself getting drawn into the story in such a way that this feeling starts to disappear. I’m sure this had something to do with the fact that the actors portraying the main adult characters in the film were reprising their roles from when “Fences” was on Broadway in 2010. Denzel Washington is known for his strong performances- and he does an amazing job playing the complex and ever-changing Troy Maxson, but it is Viola Davis who really steals the show. As Rose Maxson, she has the ability to completely make you forget that you are watching a movie. There are a few scenes (which I will not spoil) involving monologues from Rose that are unforgettable and absolutely heart-wrenching. If Davis does not get an Oscar for this performance (which, quite honestly, should not be categorized as a “supporting” role), I will stop watching the Oscars forever.

This is by no means, an easy film to watch. If you’re looking for something light with an upbeat ending- I would not suggest that you watch “Fences”. But on all other accounts, I would recommend this movie- the acting is phenomenal and really brings Wilson’s simple and yet complex story to life.  

Next up: We’ll be seeing Jet Li’s “Hero” sometime this week. It’s streaming on Netflix now if you want to watch along.

Peace out, kids.

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