Fences: One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

Akin to many families, most people have skeletons in the closet they try to keep under lock and key or pretend don’t exist, in hope of feeling a sense of normality. This story discusses many themes including: family politics, denial, personal truths and most importantly, forgiveness, especially to those who don’t deserve it. Fences follows Troy Maxson (Denzel Washington), a man emotionally traumatised by his past but at the same time, he does his best to provide for his family. As the story unravels, Troy’s closeted emotions and family secrets are revealed and subsequently test the Maxson family’s resolve.

How rare it is to watch a film with pitch perfect diction and clarity, but then again, it is adapted from a Broadway play where diction is imperative. This movie doesn’t waste its words, and in this sense it takes us back to the Hollywood Golden Age with great movies like Gone With The Wind, Psycho and Casablanca. They’re films with many memorable lines that one will never grow bored of. “How come you have never liked me?” says Cory (Jovan Adepo) to his father, to which he replies with an excellent monologue, as shown in the trailer.

Father and son, Cory and Troy get tense in this scene
(Fences, Paramount Pictures)

To call this film excellent, wonderful, phenomenal, brilliant, marvellous or unparalleled would not be enough. There is not a single adjective in the English language that would do this film justice but I will make do. The film is powerful and engaging from the opening scenes to its closing moments. It hasn’t forgotten where it came from. Throughout, it is a theatrical exhibition. I found myself thoroughly attached to Denzel Washington’s selfish and horrible Troy because he fits the role as easily as one would put on a glove. Audience’s dislike of Troy will grow like a weed throughout the movie but it’s Viola Davis’ performance as his wife Rose that makes us feel anything positive for his relentless dislikability. Her performance is in its own league and she should win the Best Supporting Actress award on Sunday if the Academy have any sense.

I don’t really see this as a film about a man coping with prejudice. It’s more about parenthood. More than that, it’s a child’s attempt to interpret the world whilst trying to deal with an abusive father who drinks copious amounts of alcohol, nearly everyday. In the grand scheme of things, Cory had a small job. It was a menial job but it was his job. His father treats him and his mother as objects rather than as human beings. When Cory accuses Troy of not wanting him to succeed, to be better than him in life, there is some truth to that statement. In the modern era of the 21st Century, parents often tell their children that they should strive to be better than the generation that preceded them but back in the 50s, working nine to five, everyday until you die was considered a success. When it comes down to it, times were different and now they’ve changed yet many still hold these ideologies but society has moved on.

Viola should win the Oscar for her performance as Rose Maxson
(Fences, Paramount Pictures)

This is Denzel Washington’s directing debut, and it’s a mid-twentieth century period piece as well. As directing debuts go, Washington has done very well indeed. The cinematography (Charlotte Bruus Christensen) and overall look of the movie is a homage to its stage roots. The challenge of translating stage to screen has been overcome by a solid script by August Wilson (from his own play), wonderful direction by Washington as well as superb set and costume design. Basically, it was if National Theatre were live streaming one of their plays into the cinema. At times, I forgot I was watching a movie because it was simply made, yet it was as high class as a Nation Theatre play.

Fences’ supporting cast checks out. Stephen Henderson (Manchester By The Sea) plays Bono, Troy’s friend and work colleague, a man who likes the taste of gin, but so much as Troy. Russell Hornsby plays Lyons, Troy’s son who is always sniffing around for money. The life of an artist doesn’t pay much but doing what he loves gives him a reason to get out of bed in the morning. Jovan Adepo as Cory is also a performance worth talking about. I hope to see this young and upcoming actor in many more projects in the future. Mykelti Williamson (24) plays Gabriel, Troy’s mentally-challenged brother, who came back from the war a different man entirely. The cast do Wilson’s carefully chosen words justice which has resulted into one of the best acted movies of the decade.

Lyons (Russell Hornsby), Rose (Viola Davis) and Troy (Denzel Washington)
(Fences, Paramount Pictures)

Fences won’t appeal to your casual cinema-goers but for those who aren’t looking for your next John Wick or comic book blockbuster. People who enjoy story and performance over special effects and fight sequences will be enthralled by Fences, from beginning to end.

The case study for stage to screen adaptations