Fences Review: Don’t Sit on the Fence, See it!
Based on a successful stage play written in 1983, Fences is the big screen adaptation of a popular Broadway play of the same name. The original play was released on Broadway for the first time in 1987 and was a huge success. The original 1987 production went on to win several awards including the Pulitzer Prize for Drama as well as the Tony Award for Best Play. Denzel Washington and Viola Davis starred in the 2010 Broadway revival which I was lucky enough to see during its limited Broadway run. The play was fantastic with mesmerizing performances.
Being such a big fan of the play, I was extremely excited to hear that it was becoming a film with Washington and Davis reprising their stage roles on the big screen. Fences takes place in the early 1950s and tells the story of Troy Maxson (Denzel Washington), a 53-year-old man that works as a trash collector in order to support his family. As a teenager, Troy was recruited to play baseball but due to the color of his skin wasn’t able to obtain a career in the MLB as a pro ball player. Since the story takes place in the 1950s, there is a lot of discussion about race and how Troy’s life didn’t turn out the way he expected or wanted. The story addresses his own personal struggles as well as his relationships with his wife Rose (Viola Davis), his brother Gabe (Mykelti Williamson), and his two children Lyons (Russell Hornsby) and Cory (Jovan Adepo).
Turning a stage play into a feature length film is always a risky decision. I love going to see a play on Broadway, but I also realize that plays are an acquired taste and aren’t for everybody. Fences is like the stage play in almost every way. The story is identical, has very few characters, and a limited amount of sets.
The majority of Fences is about six characters and their conversations. Troy is a very bitter man who doesn’t exactly have a bright outlook on life. He seems to regret a lot of his life and his decisions throughout most of his life. Troy tells his wife Rose that she is the best thing that has ever happened to him but yet still manages to hurt her. Troy’s life is filled with lots of ups and downs, but despite constantly complaining about his life, he is shown working hard to support his family despite the bad decisions that he makes along the way.
There is a great subplot that focuses on Troy taking his disabled brother’s money and using it to buy the house where he and his family reside. His brother Gabriel doesn’t live with Troy and Rose but rather down the street with some woman. When Gabriel is first introduced, he states that Troy is mad at him. This makes audiences think about who Troy is as a person versus what he shares in his stories about how he worked so hard and struggled so much to get where he is today. There are several moments like this throughout the film that should make a viewer question Troy and his stories. I loved this element of both the play and the film.
Needless to say, the performances in Fences are all around incredible. If you want to see some amazing acting, you need to see this film. Denzel Washington and Viola Davis are electrifying together. There is no doubt in my mind that these two actors are shoe-ins for Best Actor and Best Actress. There are so many great scenes between Denzel and Davis. There are emotionally charged moments while others are simply charming. There is one scene in particular where Troy and Rose get into a heated argument in their backyard. I haven’t seen such raw emotion caught on-camera in years. The fact that you can see Davis crying her eyes out while screaming at Washington with snot running down her face feels as though you are watching a real life couple caught on-screen. There is absolutely no other film this year that has showcased that level of raw emotion.
Newcomer Jovan Adepo makes his feature film debut in Fences. Adepo embraces his role and shines brightly alongside his award-winning co-stars. The scenes between Adepo and Washington are filled with anger and frustration. While it was difficult to compare so many powerful moments, I do believe the scene where Cory stands up to Troy could quite possibly be the film’s strongest moment. There is so much tension in this scene that you can’t help but grab the edge of your seat. The scene is filled with such intensity as the father and son go back and forth about their feelings towards one another.
After seeing the film, I believe Denzel Washington being part of the 2010 production gave him great insight into how to turn the play into a film. He really achieves so much with so little. Most of the film takes place either inside Troy’s home or in his backyard. The opening scene shows Troy and his best friend Bono riding a garbage truck, but this is one of the film’s only sequences that doesn’t take place at Troy’s home. Washington’s direction captures how Troy and Rose live a very modest life. Their home is old and could definitely use some fixing up, but their paycheck to paycheck lifestyle won’t allow it.
Fences is a fantastic adaptation loaded with plenty of intense and powerful moments. While the film isn’t for everyone, it is a must see for fans of character studies and those who love performance-driven films. Fences features some of the year’s best performances, and I would be shocked if Davis and Washington didn’t get nominated for their performances. While I loved the film adaptation, I have to admit that there is nothing quite like seeing something like this live on stage. Regardless, I still highly recommend seeing Fences as it is definitely one of the best films of the year.
Scott “Movie Man” Menzel’s final rating for Fences is a 9 out of 10.