“Fences” Review ✦✦✦✧✧

22 February, 2017

Director: Denzel Washington
Screenwriter: August Wilson
Directors of Photography: Charlotte Bruus Christensen
Denzel Washington, Viola Davis

Synopsis: Based on an award-winning play, Fences tells the story of Troy Maxson; an African-American man whose hopes and dreams were quashed at a young aged leading him onto a life of bitterness which comes to have a negative effect on his family.

Fences Review:

A difficult film to enjoy but one that’s almost impossible to fault as an adaptation, “Fences” offers a rare and emotional perspective on fatherhood, standing alongside a man whose disappointing life has transformed him into the ill-tempered patriarch of a disadvantaged household. Poignant in its take on the poverty trap that still plagues many African-American communities, “Fences” uses its 1950s setting to assess the context behind the stereotype of the absent and abusive father, constructing a tale of dissatisfaction around the life of a trash collector who allowed his position in society to dictate whether or not he could pursue genuine happiness.

Ensuring that the movie’s ‘fences’ are both literal and metaphorical, writer August Wilson parallel’s the erection of a fence in Troy’s backyard with a conversational assessment of the various external forces that his protagonist has allowed to get the better of him. It’s through the presence of Troy’s wife that the film is able to highlight one man’s pitiful relationship with his lack of prosperity as skin colour and destructive influences become defining factors in the life of someone who chooses not to look past them in the way he conducts himself. Resentment comes to define Troy Maxson and his self-absorbed and often crude antics become mere symptoms of a far greater issue within the mind of a greying breadwinner.

While the struggle to sympathise with Denzel Washington’s Maxson is both a blessing and a curse on the story, “Fences” doesn’t rely solely on character likeability to carry its themes. Chaining us like dogs to a central set piece, Washington preserves theatrical notions of space, retaining Wilson’s focus on dialogue in a movie that relies on Ebonics and outdated gender roles to carry its believability. Although Washington is able to present his most emotionally-charged moments in full close-up, he goes out of his way to counteract the flow of cinema with endless scenes of talking, allowing the lack of action to render moments of personal growth and disagreement more hard-hitting than they would typically be within a larger film narrative.

Despite the cabin fever aesthetic becoming rather testing in a movie with a 139 minute runtime, “Fences” is upfront about its intentions as it slowly assesses and reassesses the relationship of its lead couple in response to their various ups and downs. There’s no doubt that the screenplay is critical in its assessment of defective fathers and this gives it a rather interesting perspective on the motivations of a family member so often talked about with disdain; a man who can put food on the table but also fall from grace in the eyes of his most cherished. “Fences” shows us that there’s a human being behind the reputation but one severely deflated, like the tatters of a used and abused rag ball tied to a tree in a dusty yard.


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