Review: ‘Fences’ is Built on Great Acting & Superb Writing

There is one thing you must know before you see Fences: there is a LOT of talking. “No duh,” say the people who are well aware of the late August Wilson’s Pulitzer-winning play that he also adapted for this screen version. For the rest, you need to go into this for the love of great acting and superb writing. Do that and you’ll be rewarded.

Denzel Washington plays a husband and father in mid-1900s Pittsburgh, a man who trudged through racist America and his own unfulfilled dreams to provide a home for his family working as a rubbish man. You believe he’s a decent person until you see how he treats his house like a spit-shined trophy, abusively kept in place by the son he envies (Jovan Adepo) and the housewife he doesn’t fully appreciate (Viola Davis). One by one, his demons come out to push you towards the edge of your sympathy.

Not since Ralph Fiennes in Coriolanus has an actor self-directed a performance with such command, delivering his monologues on a self-raised pedestal that feels true to his character (as opposed to feeling ‘on-stage’). But if Washington’s performance is the arm that strangles the neck, then Davis’ is the knife that punctures the throat, occasionally lifting her character’s mask to reveal years of pain and dissatisfaction in dam-bursting floods of emotions. In comparison, poor Adepo is a poodle in a swimming race.

As a director, Washington does the bare necessities to make the material work. The music is sparse, the camerawork unflashy, the editing focused, and the art department never more than appropriate. Such simplicity would drag most films down a notch, but with dialogue this dense and performances this complex, it makes sense to put everything else aside to let these two elements shine.

‘Fences’ Movie Times