As I was watching Fences, it really had the flavor of a theater play.
Of course, there was a reason for that. Fences was a Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winning play written by August Wilson.
Troy (Denzel Washington) was the protagonist of the film. A 53-year old former Negro League baseball player who was now a garbage man. His second wife, Rose (Viola Davis) did everything she could do be the perfect wife for Troy. She asked him to build a fence around their property.
The movie really does not have much of a story. In fact, I would venture to say that it has no story. This movie is a character piece where, in place of a story, there are events that happen to the characters and we see how they react to them.
Since this is a character study without a really set plot, you had better have some great characters. Fences has characters in spades. This movie have two brilliant performances from its lead actors. Denzel Washington and Viola Davis give a tour de force acting class in this film, displaying the amazingly sharp and constantly entertaining dialogue by August Wilson. There are some of the best monologues in Fences of the year. And this dialogue could not be delivered better, as Washington and Davis are at the top of their game.
Washington and Davis were not the only strong performances in Fences. Stephen Henderson was very understated and believable as Troy’s best friend Bono. Grimm’s Russell Hornsby played Troy’s first son Lyons, trying to get by on his music. Jovan Adepo played Troy and Rose’s son Cory, who wants to play football, but Troy has certain rules to allow it. All of these actors do a wonderful job here.
However, the biggest selling point of Fences is the chance to see Denzel Washington and Viola Davis perform their craft at a level you don’t often see. I would not be surprised if both Washington and Davis are not only nominated, but actually win the Academy Awards this year. Their performances are understated, complex and layered. Every word, every glance meant something. They were remarkably human, bringing these characters to life.
Without the performances of Washington and Davis, Fences would have failed dramatically. This was an example of a movie where the performances were greater than the sum of its parts. Judging the movie as a whole, there are problems here. It feels like a play, lacking much of the plot needed for a feature length film. Some of the pacing of the film was troublesome as time jumped forward several times and it was a long film. The fact was the performances were so electric that any other detriments Fences may have had can be cast aside. I would not want to see Fences in the nominated list of Best Films but Denzel Washington and Viola Davis might be the favorites in the individual categories.