Denzel Washington should win some kind of award just for being able to memorize all the lines in this film. Fences is long and scenes are drawn out, but it squeezes every ounce of real-estate out of its seemingly barren script.
The dialogue is very classic–much of it pulled from its 1983 source material–a stage play which eventually opened on Broadway some years later.
From the jump, there is no title card indicating what year this takes place. No filters to give us a hint. Instead, the film utilizes every costume and set piece to fill us in.
Set in 1950s Pittsburgh, a former Negro league baseball player, Troy (Denzel Washington), spends much of his time lamenting on what his career would have been if he had been accepted into the Majors. He takes out much of his bitterness on his son, and eventually his wife (Viola Davis).
There’s not much to the premise, but the story moves along in captivating ways with characters who are just as intriguing.
The acting sure helps. We get to see how Troy interacts with each character differently. And Washington seamlessly transitions from one to the next, often blurring his personalities when two or more are in his presence.
But the real logline of this film should be: How a terrible man’s pride and lack of relationship skills negatively affect everyone around him. You get to know Troy so well that you actually begin to detest him. And then he just keeps giving you more and more reasons to think that way as the film progresses. The other characters in the story glorify this man’s life after he’s unjustly mean to his son and his wife. Honestly, there are plenty of other lives worth glorifying than his–many of whom haven’t had films made about them yet.
To add insult to injury, there’s not much of a redemptive quality by the end of it either. Instead of how it ended, I would have much rather just watched some more events and dialogue carry out for another 2 hours or so.
Nonetheless, it’s always a pleasure to watch a movie that’s done well. And this movie is done well. Ultimately, Fences is a character study. But in order for a character study to be enjoyable, it helps if the character you’re studying is a likable one. In this case, he isn’t.