Saturday, 18 February 2017


Adapting a famous Broadway play into a film is never an easy task. There are always going to be a lot of expectations that come with it. Will the story be faithful? Will the performances live up to those that came before? Not only that, how is it possible to make a film out of a play that takes place on one set? Luckily, Denzel Washington knew the weight of what he was doing when it came time to direct this film.

Troy Maxson (Washington) is a garbage collector in Pittsburgh. He has had a rough life, but has finally settled down with Rose (Viola Davis), whom he has been married to for eighteen years. Together they have a son, Cory (Jovan Adepo), who is being scouted by a college football team. Troy, however, is adamant that Cory get a job that he can apply himself to and not be beholden to the whims of white people. This is something that he has already seen with his brother Gabe (Mykelti Williamson), who suffered a brain injury during the War in the Pacific, and with himself as he tries to get a job as a driver of a garbage truck.

Fences has a bit of genius when it comes to the staging of the action. Rather than the restrictive nature of the stage play being confined to the Maxson's small yard, Washington is seamlessly able to move throughout the house and street out the front. This gives us a lot better understanding of the area in which Troy and Rose live as well as the living conditions of the black neighbourhood in which they live. It is also the way in which the film is able to convey the differences between black and white people. We never see white people in the neighbourhood, they are always shown in other places, places of unknown distance to Troy and Rose's house, but we can only guess there is a large distance separating them.

The performances are the strongest that I've ever seen in a movie and this probably has to do with something that not a lot of other films get to do. The main cast members were actually able to do a Broadway run of the play before they went into shooting the film. And you can tell this with the final product. The sheer intensity of the first thirty minutes of the film comes from so much practice. I was really surprised by Denzel, because I am so used to seeing him in action or crime films. I know he did a lot of serious roles in his younger days, but nothing can prepare you for seeing an overweight and drunken Washington. Viola Davis is even better, as it feels as though the pain she experiences throughout the film is genuine. Finally, Mykelti Williamson is just so amazing as Gabe, and his performance is able to bring out reactions in his cast mates that are just beautiful and telling.

Fences takes place on both a small and large scale at the same time. The story that we are seeing before our eyes may be localised, but the implications were much broader for black people of the 1950s. Fear of white people was completely justified. Denzel Washington does a great job in terms of the balancing act that he had to do and drew fantastic performances from the rest of the cast.

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