Mon | Sep 28, 2020

Family drama played out in Fences

Published:Saturday | January 7, 2017 | 12:00 AMDamian Levy
Denzel Washington plays Troy Maxson and Viola Davis plays Rose Maxson in Fences, from Paramount Pictures. Directed by Denzel Washington from a screenplay by August Wilson.

After weeks of the holiday season, going from house to house and being surrounded by loved ones, Fences, comes along with a reminder of the dark side of family.

Based on the 1983 play of the same name, Fences, takes place in 1950s Pittsburgh and follows the Maxson family, and the conflict that comes with raising a family, and coming to terms with the life you ended up living.

Fences, does this through a series of conversations between the family members. Most palpable are those between father Troy Maxson, played by Denzel Washington, and son Cory, played by Jovan Adepo. The family drama that’s presented, feels all too familiar, with scenarios I’m sure will resonate. Even as the film veers into its more dramatic elements, it still feels like a story that many people have already been a part of.

Where Fences soars, is in the undoubtedly stellar performances of its cast. Everyone delivers the letter above A game. Every micro expression feels thought out, and as big of a presence Washington has, he still has to contend with the scene stealing antics of Viola Davis, who more than gives him a run for his money. If anything, he can blame his double role as both director and actor.

Underneath those performances is of course the screenplay, which contains every bit of biting dialogue and naturalistic flow the original is known for. It’s from this script that the actors get to showcase the effect of the meaningful life lessons the characters learn. The dialogue presents questions like what it means to be a grown man. A grown woman. A child growing up. These questions are never completely answered. They’re brought to their natural conclusion as the complex ideas that they are.

Perhaps the biggest drawback from Fences, is that it somewhat falters as an adaptation. The film takes place in the Maxson's backyard, kitchen and living room area, but each of these feel distinctly like, well, sets in a play. The actors feel as though they’re entering scene left, and exiting scene right. Despite this, I was still able to maintain my immersion in the plight of these characters and was affected by their pain. It’s hard not to with a script so good and performances so convincing.