Fences ★★★★

Bulk of the criticism aimed at Fences, Denzel Washington's foray into directing, seems to pertain to the theatricality of its script and to the fact that Washington cast himself in the lead role, which also happens to be the most dialogue-heavy. As a result, I feel compelled to step up and give a bit of pushback.

Adapting a stage play always comes with a certain degree of artificiality built into the narrative. However, some critics tend to use Moonlight as a counter-argument: a play that was apparently never published nor produced. To digress, the very same people happen to also use Moonlight as a tool to review Fences, which is just about the most superficial device one could think of, as apart from the fact they both happen to tackle racial problems in America, they have very little in common. They are not even apples and oranges. Bananas and salami?

Such criticism almost immediately informs me that many viewers have missed the point of Fences entirely. Agreed, one has to work through the theatrical delivery and long, wordy exchanges, but this film simply needs to look this way to stay true to its message. Troy's character is a big man who talks a big game and, for an illiterate man, is surprisingly witty. He is a flamboyant, self-aggrandising guy who hides behind his bloated demeanour. And, if you look closely, you will find out that his true character, much like the character of this entire story, is tucked in between the lines of dialogue.

The thesis of Fences lies in those little and very suggestively highlighted moments, such as pouring the first few drops of gin on the grass, insisting on giving his wages to the wife, or the way Troy holds his cap when speaking to his superiors. Or the truly messy way Viola Davis' character cries... These, combined with the frightening moments of silent tension that punctuates the narrative, form a complex picture of a man at odds with himself, frustrated by the hand he had been dealt in life and unable to find a way of not passing the sins of his father onto the progeny of his own; a man who cowers behind his stature he had built in an act of self-defence and who desperately wages war on a God that had wronged him.

However, Fences is far from perfect, as - being transplanted from the stage - it simply lacks cinematic flair. While it is competently directed and shot, none of its technical aspects venture beyond expectedness. The film stands firmly on its acting, writing and nothing else. Though, I did take issue with how the film tries to tie everything up and pay everyone off in the end. The Chekhov's gun does not have to necessarily fire; consequently, not all trumpets have to be blown. If anything, the way the epilogue is handled can by labelled as too conveniently reassuring, while I think it would have been better off left with at least a minor degree of ambiguity.

All in all, Fences is a very interesting and ultimately scathing piece on the sins of parenthood that reverberated strongly with me, partly thanks to my own life expriences. And, as much as it is flawed, it is a formidable debut, which should never be discredited on the grounds of its theatrical roots.

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