This is Part Eight of my 2017 Oscar Watch where I watch all of the Best Picture nominees in the weeks running up to the Academy Awards. For other entries, click here:
- “Hell or High Water”
- “Manchester by the Sea”
- “La La Land”
- “Hacksaw Ridge”
- “Hidden Figures”
For all of my 2017 Academy Awards picks, click here.
Denzel Washington’s adaptation of August Wilson’s stage play “Fences” does not justify its jump to the big screen. The acting is impactful and the direction is serviceable, but the dialogue, plot, and setting does not feel like a film at all.
Denzel Washington, who both acts in and directs this film, plays the braggadocios Troy Maxson, a middle-aged black man in 1950s Pittsburgh who is bitter that he never made it out of the Negro Baseball Leagues due to segregation—Troy believes that if a black man is a better athlete than a white man, he still has to work twice as hard.
Troy’s endless, word-vomit stories contain a mix of fact and fiction that make him a captivating character to watch. Denzel plays Troy to a tremendously annoying and dangerous effect—Troy is obnoxious with his tall tales, but also aggressive when they are questioned. In the end, it is Troy’s wife and son who suffer as the man of the house becomes increasingly unhinged.
To say anything else about this film would spoil it, but I will say that the culmination of Troy’s actions is nothing spectacular—similar to a stage play, it occurs off stage (camera) and is more symbolic than literal. However, the most captivating aspect of this film is the breakdown of Troy’s relationships with his wife, Rose as played by Viola Davis, and son, Cory who is portrayed by Jovan Adepo.
The acting on display here is topnotch. In particular, Viola Davis is a powerhouse as Troy’s emotionally abused wife—she roars at her husband with intensity that has been missing from this year’s Best Picture nominees. I would not be surprised if Davis wins the award for Best Actress; she is incredible and, frankly, the most exciting part of this otherwise dull film.
All in all, “Fences” should have remained an off Broadway play: there are only three or four sets in “Fences” and the film feels limited in scope because of it, the characters ramble on like Grecians with poor grammar, and ultimately, the film is too long at 140 minutes. These criticisms stuck out very obviously and I’m surprised by the critical acclaim that “Fences” has achieved—without Davis’ and Washington’s acting, this film would have been completely ignored by the Academy.
If you are a fan of theater, you will likely enjoy this film. However, if you’re hoping for a tremendous movie, you will only find acting that is out of the park.