OSCAR WATCH: Fences Review

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This film swings for the fences but doesn’t quite get over

The Oscars are this Sunday and in an effort to get myself and everyone caught up, I’m reviewing  all the Best Picture contenders this year.  You can catch my Oscar predictions article here which was done before viewing most of the major nominees. Also you can check out reviews by clicking on the respective hyperlink: La La Land, Moonlight, Hell or High Water, Hidden Figures, and Lion.  One of the other nominees is Fences and we shall review it here.

What are ones obligation to family?  Is it merely sufficient to provide food and shelter? Do you need to love them or does it matter as long as other needs are met? Should one refuse to change because of the bitterness of the past?  Should one relinquish their dream because it is too whimsical and instead pursue conformity?  These are some pressing questions that are addressed in Fences.  They are some deep questions that’s for sure.  I’m just not entirely sure the movie does justice to the complexity of its subject.

Fences is the adapted screenplay based on the Pulitzer Prize winning stage play by August Wilson.  It is the story of Troy Maxson played by Denzel Washington. Troy and his buddy Jim Bono are garbage men.  They are also African American men in 1950’s Pittsburgh. These men go about their work by day and then return home to usually hang out and relax in Troy’s backyard so they can share a pint of gin.  Troy has a wife named Rose who is played by Viola Davis.  He also has an estranged son who is a musician who often comes by asking for money.  This is often met with sarcastic disapproval by Troy who believes that his son is foregoing responsibility to chase after his dreams of playing music.  Troy also has a son with Rose, who is being recruited by colleges to play football.  There is bitterness harbored by Troy about his lack of opportunity to play pro baseball which causes him to think that playing football is a worthless endeavor for his son as well.  Troy believes in responsibility and obligation but not to chasing seemingly frivolous dreams.  To go along with this, family life has become a chore to Troy leading him to make a decision which threatens to tear his family apart.   Also Troy is trying to build a fence in his backyard.

So.  This movie is a stage play that has been adapted for the big screen.  The whole movie feels that way.  There is a lot of dialogue and not a lot of cinematic appeal.  The whole movie is basically Denzel talking the whole time and generally being a very unlikeable person.  While many may disagree, the movie suffers because of this.  Movies are meant to be visual, but everything is all talk in this movie.  The only thing that really stood out was Viola Davis’ performance as Rose. She was amazing and you couldn’t help but feel empathy for her character.  Stephen Henderson as Jim Bono was also very enjoyable.  I don’t know about Denzel though.  I realize Denzel is nominated for Best Actor but I feel as if he is just showboating a little too much in this movie.  It is too overstated for me.  I also say this with the disclaimer that Denzel is one of my favorite actors today.  I felt very aware that I was watching Denzel Washington and never really saw him as any other character though.  The whole thing feels like a vanity project for Denzel as he is the director as well. Another important detail is that the movie  is also set in a few locations…Troy’s backyard or in his house.  This leads to viewer fatigue at the lack of visual appeal. 

I get what this film is trying to convey.  We are all ultimately human with flaws but sometimes forgiveness amongst family is important.  It is also important to not think of family as obligation but as individuals with their own hopes and dreams.  These are sound messages.  I just didn’t care to sit through this boring movie to learn that.  This is a Best Picture nominee so ultimately a lot of people really like this movie.  I don’t see it.  Compared to the other nominees, Fences doesn’t hold its weight.

Grade: D+

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