Fences: It’s Denzel’s World. We Just Live In It

Fences Plot Summary:

Based on the play of the same name, follows the story of a working class man (Denzel Washington) in the 1950’s.  Troy laments his failed dreams and troubled past as he continues to fight and provide for his wife (Viola Davis) and son (Jovan Adepo), who argues with his father about his future.

Fences is a very easy film to evaluate.  You just sit back and let Denzel Washington run the show.  Not only is he the star, but he directs as well.  While his direction is hit or miss, it doesn’t matter.  Think of Fences as a two-hour spotlight on Denzel Washington and Viola Davis.  This film was originally a play, and that’s exactly how it runs, for better or worse.

I knew this film would be a lot of speeches and talking, but I had no idea the structure would play out as if it were an actual play with 2-3 settings.  It’s jarring at first, but when you soon realize this is the movie, you quickly get into it.  The actors no doubt drive this, but if a stronger screenplay had been written, it could have transcended into one of the better movies of the year.  This film is nothing but monologues and arguments.  That’s it.  Sometimes you’re heavily engaged.  Sometimes you go in and out.  It can be sloppy.  Repetitive.  It drags.  As I said, it’s hit or miss.  Enough with the details though, as we get into the only element that matters: the performances.

Denzel Washington is like one of those wind up dolls.  Just turn the knob and let him go.  As soon as the movie begins, you just sit back and let the acting take over.  He’s incredible.  I honestly didn’t care what he was saying.  I just enjoyed watching a master work his craft.  He’s funny.  Tragic.  Angry.  Reprehensible.  Honorable.  Tough.  Infuriating.  This character is just about everything, and Denzel embodies all of it like an emotional Swiss army knife.  As the movie goes along, you learn bits and pieces about his past.  There’s plenty of important supporting characters that include his long time best friend, two sons, brother, and of course, his wife, played by Viola Davis.  Sometimes he’ll be one-on-one with a character, and then another will suddenly pop in.  Troy acts differently with all of them, so Denzel’s ability to change his tone and tenor on the fly is what could win him the Oscar.

Yes, Denzel is Denzel, but the movie would not have worked without Viola Davis.  She matches him at every corner.  Troy is a complicated character, and you see Rose react to all his personalities differently.  At times she’s playful and loves the hell out of this guy.  Other times she’s no non-sense.  Then there are moments where she hates his guts.  The two have a riveting back and forth, especially when it’s just them.  There’s one scene in particular where Davis completely lets loose.  It’s the moment you see in the trailer where she’s covered in tears and snot, but it doesn’t do the full performance justice.  It’s a gut-punching sequence.

The film is populated with great supporting actors as well.  Stephen Henderson is perfect as the loyal best friend, Bono.  Russell Hornsby is also captivating as Troy’s older son.  Then there’s Gabriel (Mykelti Williamson), Troy’s brother.  As we learn about his painful back story, you can see how it weighs on the entire family.  The best scenes in the movie are between Troy and his younger son, Cory (Adepo).  That’s the true heart of the film.  While some of the conflicts he has with the other characters are repetitive, those scenes are always lean and impactful.

The repetitive nature of the film hurts it.  We know why Troy’s bitter, and it hammers that point home for two hours.  The writing is over stuffed, but there’s definitely moments of brilliance, including a lot of powerful baseball metaphors.  While inconsistent, the film does have a strong ending that could garner Jovan Adepo an Oscar nomination.  Despite the problems, the performances are easily worth the price of admission.  It’s no wonder Denzel may be on the cusp of his third Oscar.

Rating: 7 out of 10 (Good)

Daniel Cohen is the hard-boiled Film Editor for the Pop Break. Besides reviews, Daniel writes box office predictions, Gotham reviews and Oscar coverage. He can also be found on the Breakcast. If Daniel was sprayed by Scarecrow’s fear toxin, it would be watching Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen on a non-stop loop.