Fences Review: Denzel Washington Strikes A Blow With This Family Drama

The simplest films are always the most powerful ones.

Denzel Washington and Viola Davis in Fences Image David Lee © MMXVI Paramount Pictures Corporation. All Rights Reserved

Fences
139 minutes (12A)
★★★★

They say the key to have a successful adapted screenplay is to have the author of the original material write it. Well, that key definitely only works if you have Denzel Washington directing and starring in it.

Set in Pittsburgh in the 1950s, Fences follows the life of Troy Maxson (Denzel Washington), a 53-year-old waste collector who believes in hard work and taking responsibility for your actions. Constantly disappointed by his two sons (specially his youngest), Troy’s main support is his wife of 18 years, the long-suffering Rose (Viola Davis).

Washington and Jovan Adepo as Troy and Cory Maxson Image David Lee © MMXVI Paramount Pictures Corporation

Fences is not just another film for Washington. For the actor and director, this is part of his life. He and Viola Davis had performed the August Wilson play on Broadway back in 2010, and they both won Tony Awards for it. It was just a matter of time before Washington decided to take it to the big screen with his stage wife next to him.

There is a harshness to Fences that we don’t see often enough in films. Although the movie feels a bit slow at the beginning, it evolves into a work of art midway, thanks to superb performances and a reveal that completely switches the narrative. It is obvious, from start to finish, that this was based on a play, and that the playwright himself wrote the script, because it feels as if we are in a theatre watching the actors perform right in front of us. There are long monologues and a lot of exposition to help us feel that way.

Washington and Davis performing Fences on Broadway in 2010 Image David Lee © MMXVI Paramount Pictures Corporation

But Washington has done a splendid job with the script that Wilson wrote before his death in 2005. He exploits that close relationship he has in real life with Davis and it transfers to the big screen, handing us as a present two of the best performances of the season.

Washington does what few actors can do: he carries the weight of long scenes where he just talks, and still he makes them compelling. Troy is an unsympathetic character with hardly any redeemable qualities, but he has the audience hanging on his every word.

Fences is Washington's third film as a director Image David Lee © MMXVI Paramount Pictures Corporation

And yet, it is Viola Davis who steals the show. There is no doubt that her third Oscar nomination is the one that will give her the statuette, because even in the moments where she is not talking, she is giving everyone an acting masterclass.

Fences is about having dreams and how they not always turn out the way we want them, but it is also a story about redemption, even if sometimes it arrives too late.

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