Fences Movie Review
Denzel Washington and Viola Davis deliver strong performances in Fences, a well-written stage adaptation that unfortunately still feels like a stage adaptation. About a working class African-American father and husband who struggles with raising a son amongst evolving race relations in the 1950’s, Fences is a timely if ultimately “stagey” affair.
Written by playwright August Wilson and directed by Denzel Washington, Fences is the kind of movie that the Academy Awards would love to honor thanks to its diversity challenges in recent years (especially thanks to the failures of The Birth of a Nation). And while that very well may happen, the movie is simply decent. Set inside a house, a backyard and occasionally on a city street, there’s nothing particularly challenging or engaging from a set design or directorial perspective; the film’s strength rests in its screenplay and performances.
The dialogue comes fast and furiously—putting “Gilmore Girls” to shame, no doubt—with the conversation shifting seamlessly between humor, political commentary and (sometimes misguided) fatherly advice, among other topics. Both Washington and Davis are well suited for their roles, adding emotional nuance to a script that is so fast-paced it often forgets to breathe.
But as well written as the movie is, and as good as the acting is, Fences simply cannot escape the fact that it was originally written for the stage (Wilson, who died in 2005, is the only credited writer according to IMDB, implying that Washington didn’t adjust anything to take into account the scope and breadth of a theatrical version). The performances are strong, but neither Washington nor Davis can escape the “stage acting” vibe the screenplay evidently corners them into. Further, the movie never seems to hit full stride; some scenes are engaging, others less so, and very few grab hold of you at an emotional level.
Fences has a lot of things going for it, but its inability to escape its stage play origins keeps it from its true potential.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.