“Fences” is an emotional expression of unfulfilled dreams, perceived (but not always present) racism, and 1950’s Americana. It is an adaptation of Pulitzer Prize-winning play by August Wilson and is impressively acted by Denzel Washington and Viola Davis. Denzel also directs the film, which is completely logical since his character drives every plot development in the film; in fact, I would estimate that there are less than 15 minutes where he is not onscreen. His performance is full of emotion and the disillusionment of a man who is quick to blame his inadequacies in life on racism and a vindictive Grim Reaper. He is a shoe-in for a Best Actor Oscar nomination and this is a guaranteed Best Actress Oscar win for Viola Davis, especially after she unexpectedly didn’t win for “The Help.” She creates an amazing progression as her character passively yields to her husband, allows her silence to grow into a pensive frustration, and eventually explodes into a highlight-reel monologue that will earn a spot in the cinema hall of fame. The film also includes impressive performances by Stephen McKinley Henderson, Jovan Adepo, and Russell Hornsby (plus an okay performance by Mykelti Williamson as Gabriel). The natural chemistry between the cast comes from their collective involvement in the 2010 Tony Award-winning revival of the show on Broadway (with the exception of Adepo). The chemistry creates an energy that fuels the unexpected twists and emotional outbursts that make the film so memorable. The conversational nature of the first 20 minutes definitely feels like a play than a movie. It creates some confusion as it lacks the scenic visuals that we expect in a movie, but it also lacks the intimacy of a play with a small cast. However, everything feels more organic once the film hits its stride. The theme of baseball serves as a relatable bridge between modern times and 1955 while the allegory of the fence creating a border between a man and everyone around him teaches an important lesson about empathy. I really appreciate the Pittsburgh setting of this story and that the production staff elected to film it in a house in the Hill District to preserve its authenticity. “Fences” offers the raw, dramatic performances that we crave during Oscar season and will help to preserve August Wilson’s play forever.
[Pictured: The entire cast is impressive, but these two are the reason that you must see "Fences"]