Guest Blogger Review: Fences

Posted 6 March 2017 about Fences.

Broadway comes to the big screen

Fences1It 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 just 1/10.

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.

Guest Blogger: Simon Beasor

North-West based writer, copywriter & film buff, with a MA in Screenwriting from LJMU. Read more posts by Guest Blogger: Simon Beasor

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