Fences Screen 81 of 8 reviews

Fences

2016

Fences Poster
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    Film Comment: Ina Archer
    January 03, 2017 | January/February 2017 Issue (pp. 34-36)

    The emotional resonance of the ensemble's prior work on Broadway translates beautifully to the screen, but the route to a cinematic adaptation of Fences was an arduous one.

  • Decades in the making, Denzel Washington's self-directed adaptation of August Wilson's play features one of his best lead performances, plus sterling work from a backup cast of heavy-hitting characters that includes Viola Davis. But what's most startling and impressive is the direction: this might be the best example in movie history of a filmed play that never for a second pretends that it's not a play, yet embraces the material's "play-ness" in a gloriously cinematic way.

  • The best imaginable film of August Wilson’s major play, which is great partly because it refuses to settle into anything easy or obvious. Not “cinema,” maybe, but this truly is something to see.

  • Washington’s choice to film in rectangular cinemascope may seem to make it more “cinematic,” but it also allows more bodies onscreen at once... He keeps shot-reverse shots to a minimum, which helps preserve the rhythm of the words being volleyed. In fact, it would be a shame to close your eyes and focus on the language. You’d miss the simple way Washington is able to bring what’s great about Wilson to a medium that, in hands as capable as these, does him just right.

  • Washington's non-direction of the play is so quaint that it nearly does a loop-de-loop into the realm of the avant-garde; the rarefied, sentimentalized, polished-looking 1950s-era Pittsburgh of the film suggests nothing more than a series of theatrical backdrops. This studied quaintness is evocative in fits and starts.

  • Washington’s performance effortlessly navigates the character’s complexities, delusions, and contradictions, partnered with a slow-churning mix of willpower and vulnerability that Davis brings to her role. But as a director, he is at as his best when he’s at his stodgiest... He knows acting, and knows how to frame actors in conversation, which is a rarer skill than it should be. But with anything abstract, his direction turns clumsy and overemphatic.

  • It goes without saying that the actors in “Fences,” among them Washington and Viola Davis, are some of the most talented and skillful in the business. But Washington’s filming of the play, despite his evident deep commitment to it, is far less imaginative and less original than Wilson’s creation of the play; the performances resemble theatrical ones and spurn the distinctive exhilarations of movie acting.

  • Often overpowered by Washington's forceful turn, Fences struggles with a bad case of thematic redundancy. We get it, "the world is changing and you can't even see it." The film also fails to define a cinematic rhythm separate from Wilson's doozy of a script. Washington's direction shows little visual ingenuity and at times feels stilted.

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