Film Review: Fences

Film Review: Fences

Set in America in the 1950s, a working class African American family man considers what “duty” is and how many things he has denied himself over the years.


Some people build fences to keep people out, and other people build fences to keep people in.

Set in America in the 1950s, Denzel Washington plays Troy Maxson, a working class African American man who is aware he has past his prime but is determined to keep doing his duty, to keep doing the right thing by his family. He could have been the country’s best baseball player but it was denied him because of his colour and he cannot forget that, no matter how many times his wife and friends point out to him that the world has changed since then.

Slowly, his control on his life unwinds as he considers what “duty” is, how many things he has denied himself over the years and, as time moves on, how just one thing he does for himself causes his “dutiful life” to fall apart. His his son, Cory, and wife, Rose, see life and his behaviour differently. Cory, in particular, has only ever seen anger, rigidity and demands, with no care for what he likes or his opportunities in a changing world.

Denzel Washington and Viola Davis have both been nominated for Academy Awards for their performances in this film as well as winning Screen Actors Guild Awards and they are completely justified. Davis has also won a BAFTA for Best Actress in a Supporting Role.

Viola Davis’ acting comes to the fore in the turning point of the movie as she confronts Troy over his infidelity and how his view of “duty” has affected her life, and how, at no stage, has he ever considered that treating her as “duty” has reduced the meaning of family and reduced her life to nothing. She is so real it is heart-breaking.

The only problem with this movie is that it is obviously an adaptation from a play and unfortunately this detracts from the brilliance of the acting. There is far too much talking as we are told every little thing that happens and has happened. The first scene is a talkfest, a discussion between Troy and his best friend that continues as they move into Troy’s backyard and Rose joins in – this conversation goes well over 20 minutes, by which stage the audience knows how the movie will be told.

There are also only approximately three different locations shown, which fits in with a play, as there can’t be that many location changes. It seems that the screenwriter was not willing to let go of the original stage format to let the audience be properly swept along in what could have been an outstanding story.

August Wilson, the author of the play, has been nominated posthumously for an Oscar for Best Writing, Adapted Screenplay, for this film and the cynic in me wonders if this is because Wilson died in 2005 after completing the screenplay.

As much as I wanted to like this film, particularly because of Washington’s performance as the unlikeable yet understandable Troy Maxson and for Viola Davis being so amazingly real as the unhappy yet “good” wife, it was just too hard to feel moved by so much talking and so little happening. Such a shame for it to feel like a missed opportunity.

Reviewed by Michelle Baylis

Rating out of 10:  5

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