An adage delivered by Stephen Henderson’s Jim Bono around the midpoint of Fences is, “Some people build fences to keep people out, and other people build fences to keep people in.”
It’s a quote that permeates throughout the entire film, leaving you thinking well beyond the final credits. It is undeniably a statement, but the question it conceals lies at the heart of this story. Which kind of person really is Denzel Washington’s Troy Maxson?
Based on a 1987 play written by August Wilson – the very man who penned this film’s screenplay – Fences is certainly not a plot-driven affair. Containing more dialogue in its first act alone than most films have in their entire run-time, and rarely stretching beyond the confines of the Maxsons’ property, Fences’ roots in the theatre are clear. Whilst such unvaried setting – coupled with its heavy amount of dialogue – could easily become tiring, this does not ultimately weigh the film down. What keeps Fences as enthralling as it is are its undeniably stellar performances.
"With more dialogue in its first act than most films have in their entire run-time, Fences’ roots in the theatre are clear"
It is clear that Washington – who also directs and produces the film – is completely engaged with his role, bringing the nuance that Wilson’s script demands. Despite this remarkable effort though, it is undoubtedly Viola Davis who steals the show. Davis is an actress with emotional heft, and she brings every inch of that range to her role as Washington’s wife, Rose. Already stockpiling a Golden Globe, BAFTA, and Screen Actors Guild Award for her performance, Davis’ chance of achieving her first Oscar on the 26th are sky-high.
Fences is a deeply complex film, both in its theme and character, covering a whole host of varying issues. However, it is not a film about race, a film about religion, time, or even family – although it does contain all of these things. Fences is about the simplest thing of all. It is a film about people.
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