Fences (2016)

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Fences is directed by and stars Denzel Washington (Flight, Training Day). Alongside Washington is the Oscar winning Viola Davis (Suicide Squad, How to Get Away with Murder). "A working-class African-American father tries to raise his family in the 1950s, while coming to terms with the events of his life". Fences was a successful play and now it has been transferred to the silver screen - will it work as a film? did it deserve those 4 Oscar nominations?

Fences is definitely a film that is carried by its performances which are incredibly strong. However, this doesn’t stop Fences from being a testing watch – it is tediously long with no real story or narrative and a very slow pace. However, Fences is once again a refreshing watch this awards season as a few years ago, we were unable to watch films about characters like this. It’s definitely well-made and of a good quality, I just don’t know if I could recommend it to the mainstream audience – this is absolutely a film for cinefiles, fans of the play and budding actors – It doesn’t have much appeal outside of that.

I’m going to start with where this film is the strongest – the performances. And I’m going to start with dedicating a whole section of this review to a woman who utterly deserves it – Viola Davis. I left the cinema astounded by Davis’ performance – she was superb. I must say, her performance is one of the best performances I have ever witnessed on-screen and I think out of all the actor winners this year, she is definitely the most deserving. Davis was good throughout the film but she stepped into superior territory when her character, Rose, finds out that Washington’s character has had a child with another woman – I felt speechless once the scene had finished. You have likely seen the clips – Davis gives a performance filled with rage, tears, anger, shock and…snot. I whole-heartedly believed that Davis had become Rose and I was convinced by every word she spoke. I think Davis’s performance here will be studied by acting hopefuls in years to come – I would go as far as saying this scene is iconic, I just wish more people would see it! Viola Davis is enough to pay to see Fences – she carries the film, definitely outshines Washington and is simply brilliant.

I don’t feel as strongly towards Denzel Washington’s performance and I am pleased the Oscar went to Affleck over Washington. This film may be Washington’s baby and he certainly did a good job. However, he didn’t have a wow moments – I can’t really recall a moment in the film where I was blown away by him. I don’t know whether this is because his character is actually quite unlikeable or because Davis was up in the clouds and Washington was kind of on Earth.

There isn’t really a plot to Fences – it’s just a glimpse of life. On one hand, I like this because it takes film back to its original purpose of just capturing life but on the other hand, it made the almost 150-minute film really drag on – it didn’t really go anywhere. There were some curveballs towards the end of the film that did add some drama and increase the pace. Some of the dialogue in Fences did have some poignant messages to it – there was some interesting commentary on racism. However, what I liked was that this wasn’t a film about racism – it solely just showed the life of a black family which was good to see. Both this, Hidden Figures and Moonlight are important films because they break the usual mould of a ‘black’ awards film – they aren’t about slavery or the civil rights movement, they show black Americans in a new type of light. Just like white Americans get all sorts of stories told, black Americans are starting to as well which is great to see. However, Fences is still a very heavy film that I think will be a struggle to get through for most audiences.

Fences is a solid film that would be nowhere near as good if it wasn’t for the incredible performance from Davis and the strong performance from Washington. Yes, there isn’t really a narrative and there is lots and lots of talking and basically no change of scenery, but it was refreshing to see film go back to a more simpler form. Fences is important but won’t be for everyone – it’s heavy and there is a lot to take in. The film requires your full attention for the best effect. This definitely is an acting showcase – Davis and Washington both do a great job.


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