Based on the play by August Wilson, Fences, starring Denzel Washington and Viola Davis (who both starred in the recent Broadway version) tells the story of a working class man trying to come to terms with his life not turning out as he imagined and the effects of it on those around him. It is a riveting, well acted character study that shows us just why the play is so revered. But despite that, what does Fences bring to the table that couldn’t be accomplished on a stage? The answer, sadly, is not a whole lot.
One of the first things you notice about Fences is that is feels like a play. From the long monologues to the very limited number of sets (most of the film takes place in the back yard and inside of one home), it is very easy to envision this film being performed on stage. Of course the story is all about the characters and their relationships, and staying so true to the source material is necessary to show them in all of their complexities. However, there is a lot that is said but not seen, which is necessary of a theatrical production, though I still think that on film they could have strayed a little from the source material and shown some of the interesting things that are only spoken of. While that may be a minor nitpick, I do think it would have broken up some of the longer sections of dialogue and provided some more visually interesting locales.
That aside, at its heart, Fences is a film about the characters and they would be nothing without great performances. And while Denzel and Viola are as excellent as we have come to expect, I need to make mention of the supporting cast, as more than hold their own alongside the two leading heavyweights. In Particular, Mykelti Williamson, who plays Denzel’s mentally handicapped brother. Though only given limited screen time, he steals every scene that he is in. Also worth noting is Jovan Adepo, who goes toe to toe with Denzel on more than one occasion, which is not an easy feat, to put it lightly.
Fences is absolutely worth seeing. The characters are complex and compelling, and the performances in it are superb. And even though it is very difficult to shake the feeling that you are just watching a play, this version is at least a hell of a lot cheaper than a Broadway ticket.