Friday, December 23, 2016

“Fences”– Movie Review



This week, I attended a New York Times Film Club screening of the new drama “Fences”, starring Denzel Washington (who also directed) and Viola Davis.


When a man’s disappointment in the outcome of his own life forces a wedge with his family, can their relationships be salvaged?


In 1950’s Pittsburgh, Troy (Washington) works as a garbage man to support his family – wife Rose (Davis), teenage son Cory (Jovan Adepo) and brother Gabe (Mykelti Williamson), who returned from World War II mentally disabled.  Occasionally, he finds himself also supporting Lyons (Russell Hornsby), his adult – and illegitimate – son from a previous relationship.  While Troy yearns for a better life, he is simultaneously trapped in bitterness about his past; an athlete in his youth, he once played baseball in The Negro League.  Segregation in Major League Baseball at the time prevented him from playing on a team with the players famous nationwide where he could compete and show off his skills.  To this day, Troy still cannot shake off his anger about this. 

Cory shares both his father’s interest in sports and athleticism – he’s a star player on his high school football team.  Delighted to learn that a scout from a major college has been following his progress and wants to recruit him to play for the school’s team upon graduation, Cory believes he has a future in professional sports.  However, when Troy learns of this, he refuses to even meet with the scout, much less sign the necessary paperwork that will give Cory the permission to play college ball.  Instead, Troy encourages Cory to quit the football team and learn a trade so he can have sufficient skills to have a steady job. 

Troy and Rose are now experiencing a bit of a rough patch in their own relationship as well; it turns out that for quite some time now, Troy has been cheating on his wife – something which she wasn’t aware of until one day he is forced to admit to her that his long-time girlfriend is now pregnant and he is the father of the child.  Understandably, things grow increasingly distant between Troy and Rose during the pregnancy and when his girlfriend winds up dying in childbirth, Troy asks Rose to take care of the baby.  Reluctantly, she agrees, but things are now quite different between Rose and Troy.  With his family seemingly falling apart, can Troy do anything to somehow repair the relationship between himself and his wife and son?


Perhaps the movie “Fences” would be the perfect example of the term “Oscar Bait”; it is based on a Pulitzer Prize winning Broadway play and boasts a killer cast of Denzel Washington and Viola Davis (both of whom won Tony Awards for the play’s revival back in 2010).  Playwright August Wilson wrote the screen adaptation of his own play – and arguably, therein lies the problem.  Wilson wrote the screenplay before his death over a decade ago, but the film only got made now, likely because of the fact that Denzel Washington was attached to it as both star and director. 

Where Wilson’s screenplay collapses is that his so-called “adaptation” is nothing more than a copy and paste of his stage play script broken up by a few Interior and Exterior locations thrown in just for good measure.  Unfortunately, this puts the director (and star) Washington at something of a disadvantage because he is now forced to creatively envision visual methods in which to make this more filmic and his efforts frequently appear as forced.  Washington’s Troy is left giving monologue after monologue under the guise of relating tales (in fact, one character tells him, “You have more stories than the devil has sinners” – ain’t that the truth!). 

As far as the performances are concerned, the no-brainer casting of these powerhouse talents yield the expected results; both Washington and Davis have heavy lifting to do here – Washington with long stretches of dialog and Davis with visceral reactions to Washington’s deeds.  This begins to wear down the viewer when Washington as director must rely on close-ups (and many of them) in order to convey the emotional impact.  There is also action that occurs off-screen; between that and the florid dialog carried over from the stage play, one is again reminded that we are watching an adaptation.  While it seems sacrilegious to criticize a movie like “Fences”, it must be stated clearly that in this case, the Emperor wears no clothes.

Fences (2016) on IMDb

No comments:

Post a Comment

Speak Your Piece, Beeyotch!