Fences (2016) Review: Denzel As Your Dad
After weeks of the holiday season, going from house to house and being surrounded by loved ones, ‘Fences’ comes along with a reminder of the dark side of family. Based on the 1983 play of the same name, ‘Fences’ takes place in 1950s Pittsburgh and follows the Maxson family, and the conflict that comes with raising a family, and the struggles of coming to terms with the life you ended up living.
‘Fences’ does this through a series of conversations between the family members. Most palpable are those between father Troy Maxson, played by Denzel Washington, and son Cory, played by Jovan Adepo. The family drama that’s presented feels all too familiar, with scenarios I’m sure will resonate. Even as the film veers into its more dramatic elements, it still feels like a story that many people have already been a part of.
Where ‘Fences’ soars is in the undoubtedly stellar performances of its cast. Everyone delivers the letter above A game. Every micro expression feels thought out, and as big of a presence Washington has, he still has to contend with the scene stealing antics of Viola Davis, who more than gives him a run for his money. If anything he can blame his double role as both director and actor.
What I found most interesting about ‘Fences’ is it’s use of silence. There’s hardly any score, and the films biggest emotional moments are met with a chilling quiet. The performances then, stand on their own. Every speech rests on the raw intensity of the actor giving it. There’s no musical cue manipulating your emotions, and nor is it needed. It also encapsulates the deafening silence in the room when family conversations go from being cordial, to so tense, the knife breaks.
Underneath those performances is of course the screenplay, which contains every bit of biting dialogue and naturalistic flow the original is known for. It’s from this script that the actors get to showcase the meaningful life lessons that the characters face. The dialogue presents questions like what it means to be a grown man. A grown woman. A child growing up. These questions are never completely answered, but instead brought to their natural conclusion as the complex ideas that they are.
The dialogue is delivered at a damn near Sorkin-esque frequency. The actors bounce words off each other like poignant ping pong balls. The words are only there for a moment, but the impact of them is always felt. Ever syllable uttered by the cast feels calculated to bring across everything it can, yet is done so effortlessly to feel natural. I can’t imagine a better outcome for a movie like ‘Fences’, which is so reliant on the conversations between the characters.
Perhaps the biggest drawback from ‘Fences’ is that it somewhat falters as an adaptation. The film takes place in the Maxsoms’ backyard, kitchen and living room area, but each of these feel distinctly like, well, sets in a play. The actors feel as though they’re entering scene left, and exiting scene right. Despite this, I was still able to maintain my immersion in the plight of these characters, and was affected by their pain. It’s hard not to with a script so good, and performances so convincing.
Rating: BIG SCREEN WATCH