Adapted from August Wilson’s play of the same name, Fences tells the story of an African-American working class family. Set in Pittsburgh during the 1950s it centres on Troy (Denzel Washington), as an audience, we witness his mundane commitment to providing for his family while struggling with the desire to feel more alive. In essence, it deals with the small scope of life experienced by repressed women and people of colour during this era but doesn’t really do either group any favours as the plot progresses.
The screenplay’s stage groundings are ever present on the screen. I assume the fact that August Wilson (who died in 2005) is given the film’s sole writing credit means very little has actually changed. I’m sure Troy’s endless monologues are captivating as Washington delivers them with a rhythmic gusto right before your very eyes, but on screen, they seem wholly unnatural. The visuals, set mostly in a few rooms of a single house are equally tedious. Without the magic of the live theatre, Fences is a somewhat dull affair.
Dull that is until you consider the performances. Washington’s rhythmic gusto is still reasonably impressive on screen but it’s Viola Davis (in what’s actually more of a lead role than her Oscar would suggest) who steals the show. She does a sturdy job until the film reaches its emotional crux at which point the pent up resentment is let loose in the most forceful of ways.
Overall, I found Fences to be a below par portrayal of an iconic piece, but Washington and Davis somewhat save it. I give Fences a rating of 3.5/5.