Diversity has finally hit the Oscar’s this year with a number of exceptional films such as Moonlight, Hidden Figures and Fences all getting a spot in the limelight with their nominations. Fences for one is one of the strongest contenders for its powerhouse performances from its cast alone.
Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning play of the same name – which is a mere 30 plus years old -, written by August Wilson, it’s hard not to see exactly why this story was such a triumphant on the stage. Emotionally charged and driven performances from Denzel Washington and Viola Davis, who provide their blood, sweat and tears in transforming their 2010 Broadway version for the cinematic universe. Their mesmerising performances on the stage also saw them both win big with Tony awards. Washington also takes the driving seat in the director’s chair making Fences only his third movie behind the camera in his forty years within the industry, fulfilling the wishes of writer Wilson that the film adaptation should only be directed by someone that was black.
Related: Fences Trailer
Washington plays Troy, an ex- baseball player now working as a rubbish collector in the 50’s with a penchant for alcohol, with Davis as his ever loyal wife Rose, and mother to his youngest son Cory (Jovan Adepo). Troy is exceptionally hard on Cory who has dreams of becoming an American football player, he soon quashes those dreams when he finds out Cory has lied about his job and punishes him by making him help build the fence around the house Rose has requested. Also on the exceptional cast list are Mykelti Williamson as Troy’s brain-damaged brother Gabriel – who is another understated talent giving an enormously gut-wrenching performance – and Russell Hornsby, who plays Troy’s eldest son from another relationship, Lyons, both recruited from the exact same stage revival.
With a lack of accompanying music, Fences is exceedingly dialogue heavy – staying true to its stage origins – which can feel terrible exhausting after its 2 hours 20 minutes running time. Our first taste of this happens in its opening sequence when Troy arrives home at the end of the working week accompanied by his best friend Bono (Stephen Henderson), holding court with a rousing dialogue which seems to go on for days. A picture of Troy is created through various stages in their life, on the surface, he seems to be an upstanding guy, full of charm and trying to teach his kids about life the hard way, a man who makes the odd questionable decision, well he is only human. It’s not until a massive twist hits that we witness this once strong man become a pitying sight, one that will change your initial assumptions of the man on its head. This is the moment Davis gets her chance to shine as anger and sorrow explode so visually.
With only a handful of characters, Fences is a story that concentrates heavily on its narrative rather than action or locations most of which centre around the family home including the backyard where most scenes are set. It feels very much made for the stage and anything more elaborate would detract from the intensity of its plot, staying incredibly faithful to its stage origins which hinder in places rather than enhances.
Fences provides the highest platform for masterful, powerhouse performances from Washington and Davis who fully immerse the audience into the mindset of its characters, every last drop of pain, joy, grief is felt with immense compassion, however it’s its dialogue laden narrative which proves an overweight heavy load which is just a tad too much to bare.
Fences is out in cinemas February 10th.