Monday, 27 February 2017

Review: Fences

Cert: 12A / 139 mins / Dir. Denzel Washington / Trailer

I finally saw the acclaimed Fences mere hours before the 2017 Academy Awards, where I hope/expect the film will get some recognition. After that, I trust I can go back to watching less-serious fare and no doubt moan about that instead? Well okay, then.

Based on August Wilson's play and adapted for the screen by the playwright himself before he died, Denzel Washington directs and stars in a film about Troy Maxson, a 50-something working man in 1950s Pittsburgh, having a midlife crisis when there's no-one around him to put that label on it. Troy's tale is told and revealed through the interactions with his borderline-dysfuntional family. An interweaving story of commitment, compassion, tolerance and resentment, above all else this is a family-drama in the truest sense, although it seems trite to categorise it as such. The audience isn't necessarily supposed to like everyone here, the aim is just to understand them. And that's where the performances take over from the writing.

Washington's turn is the strongest I've seen for a long time, Viola Davis' as his wife Rose is stronger. Also deserving of massive praise is Mykelti Williamson's heartbreaking performance as Troy's war-wounded brother, Gabe. Truth be told, this film doesn't put a foot wrong in terms of script-driven storytelling or acting prowess. Fences is an intimate yet broad portrayal of the stresses all families go through (although the Maxson's is particularly heightened), and while it's certainly Powerful™ in its delivery, I found it more Exhausting™ overall. In a good way I suppose, but still.

The first half alone is more dialogue-heavy than even the likes of Tarantino or Smith would dare to write, with Washington in particular barely pausing to draw breath until it's his turn to swig gin in the back yard*1. But whereas others would fill their scripts with triviality as a way of reflecting everyday banter, every single word matters in Fences, and the gaps between them matter even more. And it's this constant batting between character-history, narrative-driving and subtext which I found wearing. In a good way.

Not as heavy-going as you might expect, not as neatly-resolved as you might hope. But then, life rarely is.

So, watch this if you enjoyed?
In terms of screenwriting, I'd say Locke.

Should you watch this in a cinema, though?
Everything will be amplified by a cinema screen, but you shouldn't lose too much by watching this at home.

Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?

Is this the best work of the cast or director?
It could well be, yes.

Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?
Depends on why we disagree, but I shouldn't think so.

Yes, but is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
There isn't. Amazingly.

Yes, but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 2: This film's got that Viola Davis in it, and she was in that Ender's Game with Harrison 'Solo' Ford.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

*1 Really though, during the sequence between Troy, Bono and Lyons passing the gin around during a heated conversation, the level in that bottle is up and down between camera-angles in a way that suggests the swigging wasn't as scripted as the dialogue during those takes… [ BACK ]

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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