Love, hate, and regrets all comes crashing down into the backyard of Denzel Washington’s Fences. Adapted from the renowned play by August Wilson, (who also wrote the screenplay) Fences feels more stagey than cinematic; which is both its strength and weakness. While the stagey feel gives enough room for Denzel to invest in his characters and their emotional turmoils, it also gives the film an episodic feeling that more than often feels too talky to complete follow through.
Fences is about Troy Maxson (Denzel Washington), a garbage man who likes to spend most of his days telling and retelling stories about his own life to his close best friend Jim Bono (Stephen Henderson) while sipping his favorite drink on his payday. He loves an audience which mostly composes of his wife Rose (Viola Davis), his elder son Lyons (Russell Hornsby) who occasionally pays him a visit for some money and his younger son Cory (Jovan Adepo) who reluctantly listens to his father – more out of fear than respect.
Troy Maxson has had a difficult life. As he accounts in one of his regular stories, he didn’t have a good childhood and due to the partial laws governing the country back in his days, he couldn’t play baseball like he wanted to. While everything looks fine on the surface, Fences takes a turn when Troy and his family have to face circumstances that don’t follow up on Troy’s believes. As he goes ahead to mend a Fence around his house, the family struggles to hold it together when it’s time to decide which side of the Fence is better for themselves.
Washington’s direction is minimal. He focuses on his characters (mostly himself) and their emotions rather than panning his camera around to be showy. He doesn’t even hold back from making you almost hate his central character for the decisions he makes. So, in spite of the drawback of being an episode in a play, every character feels necessary. Mykelti Williamson who plays Uncle Gabe – a mentally challenged brother who talks about Saint Peters and fighting the devil feels more real than he is supposed to.
Balls are missed and roses are crushed in Troy’s backyard. Voila Davis wrecks you into half as she completely smothers the screen with her soul-piercing monologue about what it takes to invest so much of time in being a good wife. There’s not a single actor who could have pulled it off like she did. Denzel on the other hand completely embodies the character of Troy Maxson. He is lively, loveable and a complete asshole all at once. You hate him for his actions but you also slowly feel his ache of being a family man who does his duty in the best way he could. Fences simply wouldn’t be the same without these two pillars holding the whole house on their shoulders.
While Fences is mostly about the decisions which change lives for better or worse. It’s also about learning to live with the good, along with the bad. In one of the essential scenes in the film, the two leading characters argue over a life destroying ache where it becomes really hard for the audience to sympathize with the obviously correct side. Moments like these make Fences a brooding drama that’s hard to love but incredibly easy to admire.