From A Streetcar Named Desire to Les Miserables, bringing a stage play to life on the big screen is a very hit-or-miss genre to tackle. Never having seen the play Fences, nor even hearing about it until 2016 upon the film's release, I had little to no expectations when going into this film. Take an adaptation like Les Miserables for example. Yes, of course it had the staged feel to it, but it was not afraid to change locations on a whim. With this film adaptation of the play Fences, it very much feels like a big-budgeted play, playing out scene for scene on on the big screen. Does Denzel Washington direct this film well? Do his and Viola Davis' performances hold the film together? Here are my thoughts on Fences.
A Simple, Yet Powerful Story
This is as simple as you can get. Telling a story with 90% of it taking place at a house, whether it's inside or out, seems to be a boring notion on the surface. Having said that, this film makes up for that with an incredible amount of dialogue throughout its entire duration. Fences follows Troy (Washington) as he works, spends time with his family and friends, and spews out stories about his past, slowly giving insight as to what the outcome of the film may have in store for the viewers who have no prior knowledge of the play. That is really all that can be described about this film without getting into spoilers. This is a life story that takes its time with explaining everything in detail. A film like this can't be made this well without a talented cast though.
The Jaw-Dropping Performances
Fences may or may not grab the attention as far as top film of the year goes, but Denzel Washington and Viola Davis absolutely need to be commended for their commitment to these characters. Washington evaporates into the persona of Troy and Davis into her persona of Rose, his wife. The way they play off each other almost feels like the cameras are rolling on a real married couple. The smile, laugh, get angry, and fight at every single perfect moment. Due to their devotion, there isn't much to pick apart when watching this film. Fences ends up being a great film solely for these reasons alone. There truly is nothing wrong with this film, but I have a few personal issues.
The Translation To The Big Screen
Imagine a film directed by Quentin Tarantino, where the characters share a 20-30 minute scene where there is nothing but talking, stretch that into a 138 minute feature film, but strip away the cursing, blood and guts, or any shocking moments. Yes, that is exactly what Fences feels like, but it is a slice of life that many people can enjoy if they are aware of this going into it. It's a series of scenes that lead into one another with ease, making you feel like you are actually watching the play. That may or may not be an acceptable film experience for some, and although it works for me, it does make it seem like less of a motion picture.
My Overall Thoughts
Overall, Fences may not be able to attract a broad audience, due to its very specific style of storytelling, but it's without a doubt a very well-made picture. It is very rare to see a film told this way, so for that alone I have to give credit where credit is due. With such incredibly powerful performances, direction that is worth noting by Denzel Washington, and a story that is worth sitting through at least once if you have yet to explore any form of it, Fences definitely gets a recommendation from my book. I can't say that I quite loved this film, but I do see many instances where some people might. This is a very well-told and emotionally striking drama that you should check out.