Sometimes a gripping narrative driven by action and huge set-pieces isn’t necessary. Some films can survive on a central performance instead, forcing the narrative forward through the actions, even if they are fairly subtle, can sometimes be enough. To do this you need a perfect mix of both interesting, fully developed and multi-layered character and an actor who can match them.
Luckily for Fences, playing the compelling character of Troy Maxson is Denzel Washington, at the top of his game. This isn’t a movie with car chases, gun battles or even high intensity, stand-out scenes. That isn’t a criticism though. The reason you don’t get a feeling of key scenes or stand-out moments is because the whole film feels like one high-intensity performance.
It is worth mentioning at this point that Fences is based on the stage-play by August Wilson and that means that there isn’t a wasted scene. From the moment the film begins, the dialogue crackles with a great natural flow, driving the story and developing the lives of the key characters without unnatural exposition. This is down to great writing and key performances to equal it.
Denzel Washington’s performance is the stand-out of course and this is because he holds the screen. His character is charming and jovial in one scene, regaling his family with a story but in a key moment, he become the tough patriarch, unstable and bitter. This could be played outlandish and over-the-top but there is a restraint to Washington’s performance which makes you believe this man exists and the deeper story that plays through the film.
Washington holds the movie but doesn’t over-power it and that is because he is matched well by co-star Viola Davis. She plays Troy’s patient and troubled wife, holding her crumbling family together. Some scenes have great confrontation but this isn’t a movie about shouting matches and drama through expression. This is a story with a real chemistry at the center and to it’s credit, you can believe the lives of Troy and wife Rose exist and that we are getting a snapshot of their lives.
This is also credited to Washington too, who directed the movie. The setting very rarely moves from the Maxson house but Washington’s handling of the movie manages to make it feel like a comfortable family home in one scene and a prison in another. The explanation for the title is explained in both it’s metaphorical and literal sense and they work well in each case.
That isn’t to say Fences is flawless though. It has a long run-time which could have been trimmed. No scene feels like a waste and each tells the story and adds layers but there are moments within the movie that seem to repeat some of the narrative and a small trim could have helped speed the plot along. It doesn’t deteriorate from the movie too much though and the final act manages to contain enough of a twist in the tale to hold the attention for the closing moments of the film.
Overall, Fences holds a powerhouse performance by Denzel Washington which is ably supported by Viola Davis. It isn’t a film which zips with action but such a compelling story, held together by amazing acting, makes up for the lack of “action.”
Rating – 4.5
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