Based upon August Wilson’s play of the same name – Wilson here also adapting his own work – Denzel Washington’s third directorial outing impresses as much as it frustrates. At well over two hours long and being set, on the whole, within the confines of a single dwelling, Fences is a slow burner. To that end, it is perhaps a little overwrought and overlong, but only a little. It’s laden rather than bloated in its moral import: certainly it has a lot to say but what it does say is always meaningful.
The film functions mostly as a character study of Troy Maxson, the troubled, harsh and often autocratic head of a mid-century Pittsburgh household. Denzel Washington handles Wilson’s material well, managing this complicated leading performance with aplomb. A heavy amount of praise must be laden on his supporting players however, with each bringing a necessary and expertly realised aspect to the story, serving to contain Washington’s performance so as to not allow for it to become overripe in its orchestration.
Of particular note is Viola Davis who is on blistering form here as Troy’s long-suffering wife Rose. She very much deserves her Oscar nomination and, if there is any justice in the world, this is not the last we’ll hear from her this February.
It doesn’t always fulfil its potential and one cannot help thinking that perhaps it was a story better left for the stage but, that being said, Washington admirably holds his own at the reigns of some difficult material here. It is, of course, a beautifully written affair and, on the whole, Washington’s direction holds similar beauty, making the most of his limited setting.
Fences is a ponderous, well executed if occasionally frustrating affair: its moral message sometimes gets lost in the ether but, admittedly, that may be the point. A complicated portrayal of a complicated man at the head of a complicated family, this is a surprisingly watchable and well-handled affair which, in the end, if you’ll excuse the pun, comes down on the right side of the fence with its moral conclusions.
Image: Youtube, Paramount Pictures