Review - Matt Mungle
In theaters 12.25.16
Synopsis: An African-American father struggles with race relations in the United States while trying to raise his family in the 1950s and coming to terms with the events of his life.
Review: The fact that FENCES feels more like a stage play than a blockbuster film is no surprise considering it has lived that life for decades. But even though it may not be the most powerful film this year it certainly delivers two of the best performances this award season.
Troy (Denzel Washington) is a man living in his dreams. Though often light and jovial it doesn't take much to ignite a ferocious anger that stems from what he perceives to be a life unfulfilled. He is like an injured animal. You can pet him fondly but if you ever hit a sore spot you might draw back a bloody limb. His irritation is mainly aimed at his sons. Lyons is his oldest from a previous marriage and Cory (Jovan Adepo) is the youngest by his current wife Rose (Viola Davis). Being a teenager and living at home Cory takes the most of Troy's lashing out. The story pretty much revolves around Troy and his demons. Though the description mentions race issues in the 50's to be honest Troy's main problem is himself.
Washington and Davis both are reprising roles they performed many times on the stage. This familiarity with the lines and each other carries over to what we see on screen. They are each powerhouse actors so to add that sort of fuel to their engines obviously produces unbeatable delivery. Davis especially demands attention. Rose is a caring, patient woman but she is no wall flower. When cornered or if Troy gets too far out of line she has the backbone and strength to shut him down. She loves Cory and often finds herself mediator between the two.
Adepo enters this mix untested. He has done television roles and a few shorts but this is his first major film. His character Cory has to stand nose to nose with Washington in some heated moments and Jovan never wavers. If he does it can easily be excused away as acting. Troy is a demanding father and for his son to shake a bit in his presence is natural. The film also stars Stephen Henderson as Troy's long time friend and coworker Bono. Bono has always been Troys rooting section and loves to help him "remember when?". Henderson has the ability to enter a scene and then fade into the backdrop like a prop. This too gives the film a stage performance feel.
This film is a tough sale due to the fact that if you remove even one piece of the tapestry (Davis especially) you are left with very little. It isn't bad nor is it grand. The movie serves only to be there as a platform for the actors to walk upon. It is a reason for the dialogue. Award winning author August Wilson wrote both the original play and the screenplay so the conversations and speeches are perfect. But even that doesn't make it a fantastic movie. When Davis speaks you hang on every word. Not because you are interested in how it moves the story forward but only because you love hearing her say it.
Troy is a deep rich character no doubt. His is frustrated with his place in life and takes it out on everyone. You immediately feel bad for Cory and want to shake some sense into his father. It is apparent that Troy is using his own failures - regardless who brought them on - as an excuse to throttle his own sons ambitions. And it is sad to watch. Even as Troy goes on to make even poorer choices he never once seems to have remorse. It is always the fault of someone else. You go from sort of feeling sorry for him to simply pitying him. He is a sad man who has built his own prison cell.
Fences is rated PG-13 for thematic elements, language and some suggestive references. You have to see it for Viola Davis' performance. That may be the only reason but it is enough. Washington also directed the film but even that is nothing monumental. I give it 3 out of 5 trumpet blasts. The simplicity of the sets and blocking enhance the characters and offer the viewer expert acting performances.
Watch my interview with Jovan Adepo