The story of Troy Maxson, a working class African-American father trying to raise a family in 1950s Pittsburgh while struggling with the missed potential he believes he was wrongfully denied of fulfilling. Based on the play of the same name, written by August Wilson and adapted to the screen by Denzel Washington after a hugely successful Broadway run in 2010, starring himself and Viola Davis.
For those who enjoy plays, it’s almost immediate to see that this film has been translated from stage to screen, it gives off the strong atmosphere of the theatre and it’s hard to ignore. The second most immediate factor to reveal itself is how heavy on dialogue it will be, you have to hope that Washington likes to talk otherwise it would seem insane that he did this role for 13 weeks on stage and again for the big screen. There’s a strange quality to Troy (Washington) as a character, he’s a nice enough guy and it is a massive injustice that he was refused his chance to succeed because of the colour of his skin but he’s also full of resentment, hate and disappointment that drips into every aspect of his life which though he may be seen to be smile at many moments of the film, he simply cannot be happy. What balances his character out is his counterpart, the loyal Rose (Davis), her relentless attempts to make her husband happy and to always smooth everything over, keeping an equilibrium in their life. Washington and Davis appear to have a natural working relationship, they appear flawlessly on the screen together in moments of love or sadness, the connection between the characters is always strongly present.
The film has a patter to it, a rhythmic dialogue that moves fast and barely has time for a breath which while, something that certainly comes from its stage origins and it feels as though the adaptation has not changed that, it has stuck to the same style which is both advantageous and a missed opportunity. There was plenty of chance to take things more slowly, to add a more pensive style with editing and cinematography, taking their time with moments while not needing to be as stationary but again it sticks to what it knows. That issue however, doesn’t take away from the fact that it is a great story centred around a big personality that holds some fantastic performances, Davis is sublime as Rose finally hits her breaking point, Jovan Adepo as their son Cory is brilliant in his vulnerability and it is always great to see young British actor get a chance in a film such as this. Washington as Troy is a perfect fit and yet the emotion does not come through as strongly as you’d expect, it seeps through as anger directed at what should be his loved ones and yet he shows distaste to every one of his family as the film progresses. You can see the effort and quality of his performance but it doesn’t hit as hard as some of his previous work, which goes for the whole film, it’s emotional but the kind of emotion that would feel utterly intimate in the theatre but is more distant on the screen. The only exception being Davis’ shining moment, full of pain and betrayal that gives audiences the first-rate acting that she’s known for, this is an actress who certainly doesn’t shy away from having to give everything in a role.
Fences can be harsh and painful, it’s full of superb performances by all, especially its wonderful supporting cast including Stephen Henderson, Russell Hornsby and Mykelti Williamson (who you may recognise for his role as Bubba in Forrest Gump). It’s a powerhouse of acting but it’s struggled to adapt itself to screen, it remains a stage performance which is enthralling to watch but misses a stronger connection to its audience.