Fences (PG)

In a word: Theatrical

Fences

Denzel Washington plays Troy Maxson and Viola Davis plays Rose Maxson in Fences. 

"Fences never shakes the timing and feel of a staged performance - but nor does it try to. Characters are heard of but never seen onscreen for dramatic effect, and the story rarely leaves the backyard of the Maxson family home. Going into the film with this in mind is the best way to enjoy it as intended."

Fast talking and heart-breaking, Denzel Washington’s Fences will not be everyone’s cup of tea, but for those that appreciate it, won’t be forgotten quickly.

Based on August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize winning play of the same name, Fences is centred around the life of Troy Maxson (played by Washington), a middle-aged garbage collector from 1950’s Pittsburgh. Maxson is concurrently the film's protagonist and antagonist, supporting an extended and unorthodox family, but with questionable decisions and a heavy-handed, iron fist.

Deeply embittered at having missed out on his own dreams of playing major league baseball because of what he believes was racial discrimination, when his son Cory (Jovan Adepo) gets a chance at playing major league NFL, Troy stands in his way, not wanting him to get hurt as he did, but also not quite prepared to see his son have the success that he could never achieve.

As such, while there is a literal fence around which parts of the film revolve, the fences that are the most important in this tale are metaphorical. “Some people build fences to keep people out and other people build fences to keep people in,” says Troy’s work colleague Bono (Stephen Henderson), who acts as both Troy’s primary enabler and voice of reason.

Fences never shakes the timing and feel of a staged performance - but nor does it try to. Characters are heard of but never seen onscreen for dramatic effect, and the story rarely leaves the backyard of the Maxson family home. Going into the film with this in mind is the best way to enjoy it as intended.

Wilson’s dialogue is rich and filled with imagery. Where films usually paint the picture for you in a more literal sense, Fences, with its simple camera work and minimal location changes, allows the audience to conjure up images of their own. An example of this, from perhaps the most poignant scene, can be found near the beginning, where Troy describes a fist-fight he had with the 'Grim Reaper' while fighting pneumonia in his youth. There is no CGI flashback sequence or hazy mists to evoke a sense of memory - there is only masterful dialogue and faultless acting.

At two hours and 20 minutes, the film runs a little long for what is essentially an actor's showcase for Washington and Viola Davis, who plays Maxson’s conflicted wife Rose. Though staying true to the play, there are a few points at the two hour mark where the film could have closed neatly. Instead, Fences aims to redeem its anti-hero but in the process arguably oversimplifies and underplays the damage that Maxson causes.

Weighty viewing.