Phenomenal source material for the silver screen has been coming from the art of plays for many years. However, they are very different mediums that require varying styles of dialogue, plot progression, and acting. August Wilson's widely celebrated Fences has been receiving critical praise for quite some time, which meant that a film adaptation was inevitable. Written for the screen by Wilson, the iconic Denzel Washington is getting behind and in front of the camera to bring this story to audiences everywhere. While there's a lot to be said in this story, it doesn't take a very appealing approach for the silver screen.
Troy (Denzel Washington) is an African-American father, who works as a garbage collector in the 1950s. He lives with his wife, Rose (Viola Davis), and son, Cory (Jovan Adepo). Tackling issues on race relations in the United States, Troy must come to terms with the events of his life that may haunt him for eternity.
Given the controversial topics currently taking place in our current racial and political climate, Fences has a story that remains relevant. Troy has faced racial inequality all of his life, despite his skill and motivation in the sports scene. When Cory finds himself with similar aspirations to go to college and play football, turmoil begins to unfold. Despite all of the advice given to him, he remains strict and unmoved. The screenplay is filled with discussions that present an overview of how racism and hatred of the past can have a harmful impact on following generations. This is a fascinating theme that echoes throughout the entirety of the film, as we're presented with a group of individuals who are simply trying to get by. This is most certainly the film's strongpoint, as we're painted a picture of this time that proves to be multi-dimensional.
The story of a father-son relationship is at the heart of Fences, even despite the heavy amount of attention paid to Troy's marriage. Every conversation somehow connects back to his relationship with Cory, with each one making us despise Troy a little bit more. Wilson's intention is to create a fire within us that grows by the second, and he succeeds for a while. However, there comes a point where we stopped caring about this father-son relationship. The more interesting story is between him and Rose, and the lack of action in many of these interactions can be infuriating. We're given no reason to care much about Cory, other than the dream he has. He's the least developed character, yet we're expected to feel oceans of feelings towards him and his success. Having never experienced the original play, it could be true that this was further expanded upon there. Unfortunately, this film adaptation feels pretty bare in this department.
Fences is still very much written as a play, which may be difficult for some audiences to take in. The 138 minutes spent arguing will certainly weigh on some viewers. Despite being well-written dialogue, it's overly-dramatic that could work on the stage, but it doesn't play out quite as well on the silver screen. There are so many baseball references in talking about striking out, that it becomes exhausting. While there's no doubt that Wilson has crafted an important story, perhaps further edits in the screenplay could have made for a more captivating feature. The final twenty minutes suffer from a lull in pacing that causes the running time to drag. It makes sense that Washington likely didn't want to change much about a play that is so celebrated, although it certainly needed adjustments.
It's no secret that the most powerful aspect of Fences is its cast. The film is bound for Oscar nominations in the acting categories, as we're provided with a showy presentation that elevates the material. Denzel Washington is absolutely tremendous as Troy. This is a genuine performance that considerably elevates the slower scenes in the film. Viola Davis pierces our hearts and souls with her portrayal of Rose. She's a real powerhouse, who is able to generate honest emotion through the film's most overly-dramatic scenes. If this doesn't win her the Oscar, then perhaps nothing will.
Adapting content from one medium to another requires a lot of care and thought. The adjustments needed are what allow a story to thrive in the context of another perspective. Unfortunately, Wilson's screenplay suffers in the translation, even despite strong themes. Having never seen the original play, the father-son story at the core is often unsuccessful. Overly-dramatic moments that would have been beautiful on stage simply pull the audience out of the experience on the silver screen. Even so, Denzel Washington and Viola Davis provide show-stopping performances that deserve every ounce of awards attention that they have received thus far. Fences holding onto its vision as a play is exactly what hurts it from thriving as a film. Rent it.