‘You can’t be nobody but who you are Troy…’
If cinema was just about acting then the only two films to exist would be Zodiac and Glengarry Glen Ross. These are the two best acted films of all time. I am not taking questions about this issue at this time. Fences follows in that fine cinematic tradition of asking its audience to rely solely on acting. There isn’t much of a story here. Nothing blows up. There’s barely a score. There isn’t an alien or a robot in sight. Instead, it’s the story of one family that could be a thousand families, or a million. And though it’s set in 1950’s America, it could really be anywhere. Fences is a story about humanity. All human life is here.
Troy Maxson (Denzel Washington) is a complete asshat. He drinks too much, he’s jealous of one son and absent from the other, he spends the whole movie being a total dick to everyone. Fences is the story of Troy and the destructive effect he has on his family.
The key to the success of this character is a spellbinding turn from Denzel Washington. It’s no surprise Denzel was Oscar nommed for such a nuanced and charismatic performance. He turns what should be a one note character into a thing of flesh and blood. Viola Davis matches him every step of the way as his very long suffering wife Rose, but the whole cast are genuinely brilliant (as if often the case when transferring straight from a theatrical run to a cinematic one).
Denzel himself directs and he simply allows the story to breathe. You don’t need much of a directorial flourish if the acting is this good and the seasoned Hollywood veteran enables the story to take centre stage. The result is a desperately sad and incredibly poignant character study that quietly touches on bigger societal issues such as race and poverty, but is mainly just a meditation on what it means to be a family.
Fences isn’t an arty film, nor is it a complicated one, but it is the kind of picture that demands your full attention. That’s probably why not enough people have seen it. If ever you’re in the mood for something good, like properly good, Fences is your film.