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So as you know, I stopped writing lengthy reviews on this site this year, keeping the blog as more of a film diary of sorts.  Lo and behold,...

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Movie Review - Fences

Fences (2016)
Starring Denzel Washington, Viola Davis, Stephen Henderson, Jovan Adepo, Russell Hornsby, and Mykelti Williamson
Directed by Denzel Washington

I will readily admit that I walked into Fences expecting to be bored.  Its length of 140 minutes coupled with the boxed-in nature of filming an adaptation of a melancholy play that takes place essentially in a single house was a bit of a turn off.  Oddly enough, all of my fears came true in certain ways, but I managed to still enjoy director Denzel Washington's take on August Wilson's popular play thanks to some fantastic performances and a storyline that really kicks into gear in its second half.

Washington is Troy Maxon, a trash collector and former baseball player who never made it into the Major Leagues and admittedly holds a bit of a grudge because of it.  He lives in a sizable home with his wife Rose (Viola Davis) and his teenage son Cory (Jovan Adepo) who is finding great success with high school football, landing on the prospect list of several colleges.  Troy, who was shafted by sports in the past, refuses to allow Cory to dream his life away with the promise of a future in sports and demands that the teen earn a living through hard work like himself.  Needless to say, this causes a rift in the house not just between Troy and Cory, but also between Troy and his wife and leads to a second act turn of events that changes the course of the Maxon household forever.

Fences takes a while to really get going.  The whole piece is a talky affair, but the first forty minutes or so are filled with some lengthy diatribes by Troy or his best buddy Jim Bono (Stephen Henderson) that do little to advance the plot despite admittedly adding to the overall character of Troy himself.  However, once the actual conflict takes shape, the film starts to roll with Denzel certainly taking the lead reins and driving the ship as both its star and director.  Some have said Washington is too "actorly" or "stagy" in this flick, but I found him utterly captivating as a grizzled man who's done his share of wrong things, but wants nothing more than to create a life for his son better than the life he himself had.  This desire is palpable, showing itself in Washington's intense portrayal which is matched with equal ferocity by Viola Davis whose mild-mannered and somewhat subservient Rose turns from a typical 1950s housewife at the beck and call of her husband to a take-no-prisoners head-of-household when Troy's actions lead the Maxon family down a path they never could've expected.  Washington and Davis play exquisitely off one another in their tender moments, but simply excel when the late August Wilson's script requires them to really explore their truest, basest, and fiercest emotions in the film's second half.

This is a tough play to expand beyond the walls of the Maxon house and director Washington rarely explores another venue.  Yes, this leads the film to be a bit static at times and come off feeling rather simplistic particularly in the film's first hour.  However, Washington really manages to create an ever-building sense of emotional tension as the film progresses and its release in the final scenes is the payoff for which we'd waited.  Still, Fences can't quite escape the "boring" moniker even from someone who enjoyed it like myself.  It's not a film I'd particularly ever want to watch again, but it's a film that I appreciate and feel is ultimately worth seeing at least once since Washington and Davis give two of the best performances of the year.

The RyMickey Rating:  B

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