Thursday, February 23, 2017

Movie Review: FENCES (2016) Starring Denzel Washington and Viola Davis


Director: Denzel Washington
Genre: Drama
Starring: Denzel Washington, Viola Davis, Stephen Henderson, Jovan Adepo, Russell Hornsby, Mykelti Williamson
Runtime: 139 min
Rating: PG-13 for thematic elements, language and some suggestive references
Purchasing Links: DVD, Blu-ray

Read the review after the jump.


Review by Popa Razvan

The cinematic adaptation of August Wilson's 1983 Pulitzer Prize-winning play "Fences" went through a long a difficult journey before finally arriving on the big screen. Wilson always insisted on having an African-American director do it, and eventually, in 2013, Denzel Washington, who previously starred in the 2010 Broadway revival of the play, stepped forward to direct and reprise the role that earned him a Tony award. Wilson wrote a draft for the film before his death in 2005, and he is nominated for a posthumous Academy Award for Adapted Screenplay.

Fences Movie Image 1

The story takes place in 1950's Pittsburgh and it follows the struggles of an African-American family with both the racial climate of the time and themselves. Troy Maxson (Denzel Washington) is the head of the family. He works as a garbage collector alongside his longtime friend Jim Bono (Stephen Henderson). Troy was once a Negro Baseball league player, but never made it into the Major League due to the color of his skin, although the film hints that he may just have been too old to play the sport. This makes him bitter and influences his relationship with Cory (Jovan Adepo), his son. Troy refuses to let Cory play football, instead guiding him towards learing a trade that will help him earn a living. This leads to some intense disputes between the two characters. Meanwhile, Troy's wife, Rose (Viola Davis) is fighting to keep the family together and rein Troy in, as his drinking and bitterness threaten to undo their unity.

Fences Movie Image 2

The film and play are centered around the allegory of a fence that Troy keeps trying to build around their home, and this simple structure takes multiple meanings throughout the film/play. As Bono says in one scene, some build fences to keep people out and others build them to keep people in. This sums everything up nicely. While Rose wants the fence to hold her family in, Troy wants to keep out anything that may threaten him and his loved ones, particularly Death. In an early scene Troy recounts a time when he survived a bout of pneumonia that almost claimed his life, envisioning a confrontation with Death in the form of a fist fight. The theme of his struggle with mortality is reprised several times throughout the film.

As you can guess, it's a really complex material that provides plenty of food for thought. It's more than just social commentary, it's a universal story about family ties, the harm we inflict on those we love the most, and ultimately about learning to forgive.

Fences Movie Image 3

Washington and Davis are incredible in the lead roles and they should definitely win Oscars this year. Their powerhouse performances rip through the screen and hit hard. They don't feel like actors running through lines they probably know by heart aftter playing these characters on Broadway, but real humans. It's practically impossible to separate the actors from their characters. They are perfectly fused together.

As a piece of cinema, it's obviously restricted by its theatre origins and extreme faithfulness to the source material. It feels as if you're watching a play, not a movie. This is pretty much the problem with all theatre adaptations, although, it's never really bothered me much. It certainly doesn't take away from the powerful performances, and the story and themes that are competently represented under Washington's direction. Perhaps if they could have edited it down to something like 2 hours, because its 2 hours and 20 minutes running time is somewhat unwieldy.

In my honest opinion, "Fences" is a movie you shouldn't miss. It will help, however, if you've had previous experience with theatre plays and/or film adaptations, otherwise the static setting and lengthy monologues might discourage unsuspecting viewers.



  • Strong adaptation of a powerful play
  • Faithful to the source material
  • Riveting performances

  • Problems associated with adapting a play
  • Lengthy running time



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