Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Movie Review: FENCES

Fences is the third directorial effort by acclaimed actor Denzel Washington and is an adaptation of the August Wilson play of the same name. The film stars Washington alongside Viola Davis, Stephen Henderson, Jovan Adepo, Russsell Hornsby, and Mykelti Williamson. Washington and Davis have famously performed this play on stage prior to making this film. Overall, I found that this film was wholly built around two superb performances but was otherwise an extremely mediocre film as a whole.

Beginning with the positives, I must give due praise to the performances by Denzel Washington and Viola Davis. For his part, Washington plays this complex and despicable character with such a degree of excellence that you’re absolutely drawn to him while at the same time hating him. It is an extremely complicated relationship as an audience member and Washington’s excellent performance makes it work. Davis somehow manages to outshine even Washington however. Playing a wife trying her best to be the best wife she can be while dealing with some horrible acts and things go on around her, Davis plays a vulnerable but strong character. She embodies this motherly character so well that when she’s going through pain you really just want to be with her and help her in whatever way you can. She doesn’t just lie down though. She has a perspective and Davis really highlights the power that this character that might otherwise just be a nothing figure.

These performances live at the center of the movie but they would be nothing without a superb screenplay. This film is almost wall to wall dialogue and August Wilson’s work makes this film as good as it can be, and creates the grounds to bring out the quality of performances. There are so many emotional moments and they manage to earn them all by virtue of how this film is written. For its length and general mediocrity, this film was never boring and, in a film reliant on dialogue, that is a sign of great writing underneath it all.

Fences ended up disappointing me because I had hoped for so much more. And given the performances and story we deserved so much more. This film does nothing special in terms of filmmaking. It honestly felt like Washington shot the play and put it out for public release. The settings are drab and the camera movement equally so. There is so little going on creatively behind and around the camera that the film ended up feeling very bland and uninteresting. If I were to make a side by side comparison of a film that does a similar thing better, I would point readers to Steven Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies. That film is similarly very dialogue heavy, but Spielberg uses strong directorial techniques to highlight things and to make extended scenes between two people consistently engaging and visually pleasing. Fences made with that kind of vision would, I think, be a great movie. Sadly, it wasn’t.

On top of lacking directorial work, most of the performances outside of Washington and Davis were forgettable. Stephen Henderson was effective, certainly. Mykelti Williamson also had an interesting performance and was pretty decent. The most disappointing was from Jovan Adepo who plays Cory, Washington and Davis’ son. This character has a part on par with the drama and weight for Washington and Davis but Adepo did not answer the call in the same way. He wasn’t bad, certainly, but his performance wasn’t special which it really should have been given the underlying content therein.

Overall, I found Fences to be a fairly mediocre picture centered around two excellent performances. There is a lot of good stuff going for Fences and I had hoped it would turn out better than it did. Washington and Davis deserved better for the work they did on this film and it is worth seeing if only for them.

Ryan’s Score: 7/10

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