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Fences: Break it All Down
By Alex Carrigan
*Editor's Note: This article is part of a review series by Alex Carrigan from February 14-24. To learn about the series, visit this post.
I was really upset when I had to reschedule Fences due to some trouble seeing it in theaters with a group. Not only did it mean I had to awkwardly rework the Oscar series and start the series off with a film I was already familiar with, it meant I had to wait the longest to see it. It also did not help I had to watch Viola Davis give a powerhouse performance in this week’s How to Get Away with Murder to make me even more upset that I had to wait longer to see this movie. But here I am, on the last day of the Oscar series, and if anything, I think that rescheduling ended up being a blessing in disguise.
Fences is based off the 1984 play by August Wilson. The film follows the lives of the Maxson family in Pittsburgh in the 1950’s. Patriarch Troy (Denzel Washington) works as a garbage man and lives with his dutiful wife, Rose (Viola Davis), and his son, Cory (Jovan Adepo). Troy was a failed baseball player, and his bitterness towards missing out on the pro leagues hinders his relationship with his son and affects those around him.
The title Fences refers to more than the literal fence Troy is building around his backyard, but also to the barriers the characters put around one another. Troy’s failed dreams impact his marriage, his relationships with his children, and with his friends. As a result, everyone around Troy starts to push him away too. Much like the baseball hanging from the tree, the characters swing back and forth between inclusion and exclusion.
Much of this has to do with the setting. The play was based on Wilson’s time growing up in Pittsburgh and is part of a series of plays using the location to cover the lives of African-American people throughout history. Here, the lingering effects of World War II are still present in Troy’s mentally handicapped brother, Gabriel (Mykelti Williamson), who has been left to his devices following a head injury in the war. Troy still believes the discrimination and segregation he has faced in professional sports is still present and will affect Cory. In fact, we see very little of the world outside of Troy’s house and yard, isolating the characters from any signs of intolerance in their community beyond the ways they let the oppression they suffered affect their lives.
Fences is a dialogue heavy movie. That may be a turn-off for some viewers, but is a given due to its origin as a Broadway play. Because of this, the screenplay and performances had to be top-notched in order to sell a drama light on action. Fences has probably one of the strongest screenplays of this year’s group, presenting some incredibly multidimensional characters with conversations that feel authentic and genuine. Even though these are actors from 2016, they feel like people who truly lived in the era because they so perfectly blend in with it.
Now that I’ve had time to weigh in the other performances, I am now highly pulling for Washington and Davis to win for their respective acting categories. Washington gives one of his best performances ever, portraying such a complex man who is extremely unsympathetic at times but still manages to be sympathetic nonetheless. Davis has to win. I will not accept anyone but her, and that’s hard considering she’s in a really good category this year. Davis is one of my favorite modern actresses, and she completely loses herself in the role of Rose, so I will be really upset if she loses.
Fences is one of the best acted and best written films of the year. I’m not sure if it can win Best Picture, but it’s an incredible drama that should be looked at more for the performances than anything else. I also think it’s one of the better adapted screenplays, although I’m torn whether it or Moonlight should win. Either way, Fences is an amazing adaptation and definitely one of the better films in this year’s pool, so I think it will do well come Oscar night.
Tomorrow: I’ve seen all nine films, and it’s time to give my review and predictions. God help me.