A working-class African-American father tries to raise his family in the 1950s, while coming to terms with the events of his life.
Denzel Washington returns to the director role for the new film Fences, a position he’s only taken on sparingly over his career with his previous effort The Great Debaters being released in 2007. For his latest project Washington worked from a script written by August Wilson, who also wrote the award winning play that the film is based on. Washington previously acted in the play on Broadway, and here he reunites with several of those cast members.
Overall this is a relatively low cost production, Fences required approximately $24 million in production budget as it primary takes place in the one location. It is easily apparent that the film has evolved from a play, as it maintains a faithful translation of that medium, while taking advantage of some of the benefits awarded by telling the story in film.
This is largely a character driven drama, and is greatly dependent upon the cast to make the film work. With so much driven by dialogue and expression, it clearly showcases the acting strengths of the cast, and the direction by Washington at the helm. Washington is at his best here, with a massive amount of material and a complex character to delve into, he soundly displays his raw acting talents, and this quality of performance extends across the cast.
Viola Davis is a fitting match to Washington, the pair display a good working chemistry and Davis is given plenty opportunity to display her dramatic acting talent as well. With the film placing so much focus on the performances any missteps would be noticeable particularly in the context of such great leading performances, but the supporting cast of Stephen Henderson, Russell Hornsby, Mykelti Williamson and Jovan Adepo round out the film with skill.
Set in the 1950’s, the film primarily explores a working class father wrestling with key (mostly destructive) events that have transpired in his life, and how they led and impact on his current situation. Struggling to make peace with events in his past while keeping the present under control, his emotional turmoil is the centrepiece of the film. As it progresses the story craftily strips down the layers of the character with a number of dramatic reveals while giving context to the conflict on screen, all mixed in with a healthy amount of social and race relation commentary.
Some of the shortcomings of the film however stem from its own strengths, with such strong performances, the film tends to overlook some of the advantages offered by film to distinguish this interpretation from a play. There’s a tendency to re-tread Washington’s performance throughout the film which leads to the next short coming, being the running time.
At a lengthy almost 2.5 hours, the film struggles to maintain substance to keep the film engaging through to the end. Some further revisions in the editing room might have reduced some of the repetition of monologue.
That aside, this is a strong film that should be rewarded critically and at the box office, I’m giving it 4 out of 5 stars. Fences is in cinemas across Australia from Thursday 9th February 2017.