‘Fences’ builds a powerful tale of the roles we hold in our family (review)
2016 was a hard year. Not just for celebrities or people of fame. No, it was hard for many of us, from the young to the old, the rich to the poor, the big to the small. It was a difficult year, and not just in the sense that you came upon tough times. The year came and decided that it was time to test us. To see our breaking points, humanity as a whole, and to cut us to our core. I was no stranger to this culling; this year was not an easy one. I faced my share of difficulty, and downright unbearable, moments, but I pushed forward. I push forward, present tense. We all push forward. And that is one of the many things I took away from the Denzel Washington directed film and one of the last entries to the Academy Awards, Fences.
The film follows Troy Maxson (Denzel Washington) as he makes his living as a sanitation worker in 1950s Pittsburgh. Maxson once dreamed of becoming a professional baseball player, but was deemed too old when the major leagues began admitting black athletes. Bitter over his missed opportunity, Troy creates further tension in his family when he squashes his son’s (Jovan Adepo) chance to meet a college football recruiter. Tension continues to build as trouble stirs between him and his wife of 18 years, Rose (Viola Davis), as well as the circumstance of his disabled brother, Gabriel (Mykelti Williamson), causing Troy to make the necessary choices that will change all of their lives forever.
This film contains all the necessary pieces to build a masterpiece: a great ensemble cast, an outstanding script from playwright August Wilson, and incredible direction from the leading man himself, Denzel Washington. Fences, adapted from a 1983 play originally written by the incredible American playwright, takes the subtleties of the family dynamic during the 1950’s, and portrays a gritty yet engaging tale that many people can relate to, giving fans the triple threat that this film is, delivering an incredible film. Denzel is no stranger to directing, as demonstrated by his 2002 film, Antwone Fisher, and his 2007 historical epic, The Great Debaters. He obviously shines brightly on screen- there’s no doubt of Denzel’s prowess when he’s in his element- but a whole other side of his craft is unveiled when he directs. He evokes a sense of emotionality from his cast that surpasses most directors, but without relinquishing their transparency in their performances. Needless to say, with Denzel in the director’s chair for this film, you can only imagine how introspective and visceral the performances of the actors exude as their characters.
The other necessary piece to this film is the great casting, and aside from what hasn’t already been said about Denzel, as an actor, there is another diamond that shines in this film, scene after scene: Viola Davis. Her gentleness and warmth spreads throughout each scene that she is a part of, almost as if she’s personally inviting you into her home, showing you the softer side of Davis. But simultaneously, Davis strips her performance to simply raw emotions, as she pours her heart into the scenes where her character portrays sorrow and distraught. The trailer gave us a small moment of this, but it isn’t until you see the film, as a whole, that you experience the phenomenal performance she delivers. Her ability to exude such a powerful strength the pours out of her performance is incredible, not just as a wife, or a mother, but as a woman of color in that specific era of this nation, and I was blown away from every single second she was on screen.
The film creates a beautifully woven tapestry that intersects not just the lives of the people in the film, but the results of the decisions they’ve made, and how it affects those around them, especially in a family setting. The story that unfolds connects this family through unforeseen circumstances, and with the direction of Denzel Washington, the incredible work written by August Wilson, and the outstanding performances by the cast, you are given one of the best performances of the year. It certainly is a gritty and hard film, at times, to watch, but its overall message is essential to the world today. The idea that our choices, our decisions, can either cause us to build fences that separate us from the ones we love, or build gates to keep those we love close. However you see it, it’s not difficult to say that Fences is one of the must-see films of this past year.