Broadway comes to the
It is ironic that you can tell how moving a
film was by how little moving goes on when it finishes, and in Monday night’s
showing of Fences, no one reached for their coats until several minutes into
the closing credits.
If you haven’t seen theatre on the screen
before, like the many National Theatre Live or Globe Shakespeare broadcasts,
then Fences will be a challenge. This is not a normal movie and for some,
including critic Mark Kermode, that is a problem. There is no denying that it
feels stagey and is clearly based on a play. But if you stick with it, you will
be well rewarded.
Come expecting a blockbuster and you’ll be
confused and quite possibly bored, but come prepared for writing and acting of
the very highest order, examining the human condition in searing detail, and
you will find Fences to be quite a profound experience. Perhaps this is why
it’s had such a ‘Marmite’ reaction on IMDb, with most reviews either 10/10 or
Adapted from the multi-award winning Broadway
stage production, and starring many of the original stage cast, Fences is heavy
on dialogue and light on action. What’s more, most of the film takes place in a
single location - the backyard of the main characters’ home.
There are no heroes and no extraordinary
story to tell. But if anything, it is the sheer ordinary-ness of Denzel
Washington’s Troy Maxson that makes this film so compelling. Frustrated by the
missed opportunities of youth, resigned to the daily grind of providing for his
family, living for Friday night when the week’s work is done and he can relax
with his buddies, this is a man whose frustrations we can all share to some
extent. Who hasn’t got a project on the go like Troy’s fence, which never quite
seems to get finished? In a world where movie characters all too often achieve
the impossible and overcome outrageous odds, it is refreshing to see someone
struggle like the rest of us.
Troy is an intense, and intensely flawed
character, supported by his loyal and long-suffering wife, played to
Oscar-winning standard by Viola Davis. It is the slow unraveling of their
relationship that provides the story, as we discover how their past, and their
childhoods, have shaped them into who they are today, and see how they, in turn,
try to shape the lives and temper the dreams of their own children.
After over a hundred performances on
Broadway, the cast understands the emotions of the script intimately, and more
importantly, know the nuances of the facial expressions and reactions even
better. For all the Oscar-nominated brilliance of the script, it is often the
quiet in between the words that speaks the loudest and says the most.
Fences is certainly not for everyone, and
those who will appreciate it, will also appreciate the bored sweet-bag-rustlers
staying away. But if you enjoyed theatre on screen productions like Gillian
Anderson’s A Streetcar Named Desire then you are in for a real treat.