Fences has sharp dialogue and excellent performances but it’s shot like a play not a movie.
Director: Denzel Washington
Summary: An African-American father struggles with race relations in the United States while trying to raise is family in the 1950’s and coming to terms with the events of his life.
There are a lot of reasons that adaptations fail. The idea that of adapting material from one medium to another seems like it works far less than it does. It stems from the idea that people consume media in very different ways. A book is not a movie, a comic is not a play, and a play is not a movie. Les Miserables is a musical that doesn’t work as a movie because of the direction. In the case of Fences I knew within seconds of the movie starting that this was a play. A play is staged and paced in a certain way. A play has an intermission and despite the fact that Fences was only two hours and eighteen minutes it still felt longer. Denzel Washington is our star and our director but I’m not sure he’s going to make the jump from one to another.
That is not to say that the movie is bad. It’s actually very good; it has some of the best dialogue I’ve seen in this year. The dialogue is snappy and the various actor deliver the lines in a way that moves. A play is based so much on dialogue because you’re watching a bunch of people interact on a stage. It’s a different experience because you can only do so much in that limited space. Fences does the exact same thing to the point where you could see people saying “enter stage left and exit stage right”. It made for a strange viewing experience but it makes up for it with the performances.
Viola Davis’ Rose is the standout and she does a fantastic job. She is raw and puts everything on the screen. She is a character that we’ve all seen before but she also is someone that feels so real. Rose is heartbreaking but she has great backup by Denzel Washington as Troy. Washington looks almost nothing like we’ve expected from him in the last several years. We know Washington as an action star these days but here he shows up looking like an old man with a pot gut and graying hair.
Fences has great dialogue, great performances, but the way it is staged and directed makes the original medium apparent. I’m not sure this is a play that could be made into a movie. It’s not the fault of anyone involved really; not everything is meant to jump mediums.