“Some people build fences to keep others out, but some build them to keep people in.”
The line written above is one of the best lines of the year in cinema, and it comes from the movie with possibly the best script of the year, Fences. It perfectly describes the message of this movie in a nutshell. A movie about growing up in a gritty, working class family during the 1950s, Fences reaches far beyond its landscape. It is an emotional journey that takes you from tears of laughter to tears of sorrow.
The movie tells the story of Troy and Rose Maxson, a black couple, trying to make ends meet for their family in the blue-collar town of Pittsburgh during the height of the civil rights era.
Based on the Tony Award-winning play, Fences converts well to the big screen not because of its setting, but because of its textbook acting performances. In fact, at times, I wish Denzel Washington, who starred and directed the movie, told more of the story beyond the scope of the set. The backdrop of the Maxson residence, backyard and street set the stage for 99% of the film. Troy (Denzel’s character) was an incredible storyteller, and if the settings told as much of a story as its main character, then I think the movie would have been even better.
However, with that said, I can also understand why Denzel chose to do so, being that the constant setting (aside from perhaps being a tribute to the play itself) is a metaphor for the bigger picture, which is the fact that Troy spent most of his time at home in an emotional box and wanted to keep his family inside there as well, hence the “fences” theme.
Another thing you could argue after watching Fences, is that Rose (Viola Davis) may have actually been the main focal point of the movie, not Troy. She goes through everything with Troy, and sticks by him through it all (despite the opposing groans and hisses from the audience in the theater where I watched this movie). Rose represents authentic perseverance, while Troy only represents perseverance through submission. You realize the title could very well represent her restrictions more so than anyone else in the story.
I must admit, I am constantly looking at Denzel’s page on other movie sites to see what upcoming projects he is working on (I do the same for Leonardo DiCaprio, too). When I first saw he was making a movie for Fences, which he already has won a Tony Award for as the result of his performance in the play version on Broadway, I became excited and eager to not only see his performance of this role on the big screen, but also to see more of his directing style. I thought he did a great job in the other films he directed previously, Antwone Fisher and The Great Debaters. I had heard of the play before, but I had not had the chance to see it. Interestingly enough, after seeing it first as a movie, I am even more intrigued to see how it is portrayed on stage. I enjoyed the movie a lot, but I feel like the play is probably even better.
As big of a Denzel fan as I am, I have to say that for the first time ever, I despised his character. Behind the charm, the wittiness, the funny stories and the playful banter, we learn that Troy was really a troubled man. He was a man who was internally dark and extremely selfish. He egotistically wanted to keep his wife and children stagnant in their dreams so that he could always be above them. In a peculiar way, I believe Troy meant well, but ultimately, his failures in his own life led to his failures as a husband and father.
The more I hated him through his character, I found myself further revering him for this performance. Not only Denzel, but the entire cast of Fences was literally perfect. This was one of the movies where people in the theater applauded at the conclusion, and rightfully so. This was honestly one of the finest displays of ensemble acting I have ever seen.
Equally impressive was the screenplay. I forgot I was watching a fictional movie at times. The scene in the beginning of the movie between Troy and Bono (played by Stephen Henderson) was riveting (there’s really nothing like hearing real talk from two “OG’s”), and the chemistry between Troy and Rose on-screen was masterful. I know a lot has been said about other actors and their impressive roles this year (Casey Affleck in Manchester by the Sea specifically), but it’s hard for me to imagine Denzel not getting the Best Actor award for this role at the Oscars. He was basically in every scene and was spellbinding in all of them.
Also spellbinding was the perfomance of Mykelti Williamson, who played Gabe, a man physically and mentally ruined from the war. He isn’t a household name, but you may remember him from his performances back in the day as Bubba in Forrest Gump or Don King in Ali. He is absolutely deserving of a Best Supporting Actor nomination for this role.
Fences is a genuinely heartfelt, eye-opening film. The plot was not what I had anticipated (some sites could have done a better job with the synopsis of this film), but I was pleasantly surprised. The family and spousal values that come from this movie should be appreciated. However, as I said earlier, I feel like there was some meat left on the bone when it comes to telling this story on the big screen versus Broadway. Nonetheless, I think it is a must-see. Don’t allow yourself to be fenced in by the setting (pardon the obvious pun). Instead, absorb the message and admire the clinical performances that should be shown and celebrated in acting classes all over the world for years to come.
MATTER RATING: 9/10
OSCAR SCALE: 10/10
BY: CHRIS GUEST