Fences is a 2016 drama directed by Denzel Washington and is based off the play by the same name written by August Wilson. This adaptation is also written by August Wilson (rest in peace) and stars Denzel Washington, Viola Davis, Stephen Henderson, Jovan Adepo, Russell Hornsby, and Mykelti Williamson in a story about a tough father and his family. Right off the bat, this film is based off a play and adapted by the same playwright which means that it still holds onto many of the qualities that the play had. For one, if you’ve seen many plays, you’ll be able to recognize that this film shares a similar contained quality that plays are forced to have because of their stagnant location. Because of this element, a lot of the play was dialogue; characters talking about things happening more than we actually see things happen. Actually, many of the most important parts of this film all occur off-screen which made for kind of a slow version of the story that it could have been. The movie felt like a solid three and a half hours, which is a full hour longer than the actual runtime and felt pretty dry and even boring at times. However, the powerful story and incredible performances make this film quite unforgettable in retrospect, even if sitting through it was more of a chore than I would have liked.
Denzel Washington stars as Troy, who is the father of a family but is much more bitter and stern than a normal father by many standards would be. Viola Davis plays his wife Rose, who is very sweet and innocent which is a great juxtaposition to Troy. Troy is devastatingly prideful and extremely hard to like at certain times but having Washington portray him was a great choice as he is somebody easy to love. So, as the anti-hero, or even antagonist, he is such an emotional threat to the wellbeing of the family we follow throughout the film. Although, instead of hating him, we often pity him since he seems to be a product of the difficult time that he grew up in. Furthermore, something that happens at the end emphasizes this fact as a character starts to echo Troy’s sentiments even though they disagreed throughout the film. Because of the ending, this film becomes a drama about how the world molds people into things they might not want to be, but this “death” of character is an innevitable change.
Troy states throughout the film that he has wrestled with “death” many times and is no longer afraid of him; in my opinion, this “death” that he refers to having wrestled with multiple times represents the trials and tribulations he’s suffered through as a black man during his childhood and adult life. Growing up in his time could not have possibly been an easy thing to endure so seeing how Troy has changed from the kid is son is to the man he is now is heartbreaking and I have a hard time blaming Troy for the man he is during the film. There are a lot of beats in the story and arcs and plot twists that further the plot in many ways that I cannot discuss in a spoiler-free review, but seeing how the film is >95% dialogue means that a lot of things will be talked about to keep the film going. Even though almost all of those events occur off-screen, there are still many things that happen on screen through dialogue in verbal debates and interaction between characters. These conversations flesh out each character so that we can see what kind of a person they are since we do not ever see them in action
Even though almost all of those events occur off-screen, there are still many things that happen on screen through dialogue in verbal debates and interaction between characters; these conversations flesh out each character so that we can see what kind of a person they are since we do not ever see them in action. Each character is different for many reasons and seeing how they compare with each other fleshes them out even further. Additionally, the film was never really predictable and I really enjoyed how it took on this emotional rollercoaster in darkness; one choice made by a certain character at the end was not only surprising but highly respectable and actually complimented intelligence rather than insulting it, which I was impressed by. Troy’s brother Gabe is mentally handicapped and when he enters the story and fears Troy, I got this overwhelming wave of “okay, I can forgive some things but if you treat this man horribly, you are going to be the greatest villain of them all,” and immediately was against Troy. However, it’s not a hatred that Troy has for him, but a somber-full pity instead which is much more understandable and forgivable than the predictable alternative.
Overall, although this film feels long, slow and often dry, the character- and dialogue-driven story makes it quite unforgettable and powerful as a whole. Washington and Davis deliver incredible performances as Troy and Rose, each one individually depicting how the times have changed them for better or for worse. This is a heartbreaking story of how the world molds people into things they might not want to be all because of societal norms, barriers, and ceilings that man sets upon one another. Because of that, Troy is an extremely complex and dimensional character and without having his family there to juxtapose the despicable characteristics he boasts, he would just be a flat villain; instead, we see how he was when he was growing up (in his son) and the great woman he married, and how he most likely used to be as an adult. The film is absolutely worth a watch, but may be one to watch at home when you can pause, stretch, pee, eat, nap, run, etc., and then resume watching because it’s quite the long haul. I’m going to give Fences a solid 7+/10 and a green recommendation! I definitely agree that Davis deserved that Oscar, but my man Washington definitely deserved one as well. Hell, the entire cast was amazing! What did you think about this film? Let me know by commenting below! As always, thanks for reading and I’ll see you soon!