Benjamin Maio Mackay
Fences - 2.5 Stars
Denzel Washington’s film version of Fences fails to ignite.
A working-class African-American father tries to raise his family in the 1950s, while coming to terms with the events of his life.
August Wilson’s play is iconic, but when it comes down to it Fences is a drama that clearly works best on stage. This film doesn’t present like a movie, the team doesn’t seem to understand the film and theatre are two different types of media. What works in theatre doesn’t necessarily work on screen. For a story about real life it felt over-rehearsed, every line was overthought and the pacing was too fast it was very forced, and did little to convince the viewer they were watching real life.
The acting too was very theatrical, in film you underplay things, while on stage you have to be bigger, it’s a necessity. Viola Davis’ performance is the strongest, yet even she has weak moments. Mykelti Williamson is also a stand-out. Washington doesn’t have the ability do both direct and perform, so his performance is the most theatrical.
The screenplay is by playwright August Wilson, he wrote it before his death in 2005. As I understand it, it wasn’t changed out of respect. While as a playwright he was genius, his lack of film experience mean the screenplay suffers. That’s definitely one of the issues with the film, the script just isn’t a movie script - again its designed for a play.
Overall this was a story that had a lot of potential and if adapted right could’ve been brilliant. The themes, messages and story are still somewhat relevant today, but for a film that is supposed to reflect “real life” it felt too theatrical. Give it a miss.
Review by Benjamin Maio Mackay
Screening courtesy of Paramount Pictures