Friday, January 6, 2017

Fences Review

"Fences" is a movie starring Denzel Washington, produced by Denzel Washington and directed by Denzel Washington. Boom. Review over. Right? I mean, everybody loves themselves a little bit of Denzel. Even in the sub-par remake of "The Magnificent Seven" from last year, Denzel made it worth it with how much heart and soul he put into that role. Instead of me giving my review, we could just sit here and talk about our favorite performance from Denzel. I could say "Remember the Titans." You could say "Training Day," "American Gangster," "Man on Fire," Inside Man" "The Equalizer," "The Book of Eli," "The Great Debaters," "The Pelican Brief," "Philadelphia," "Malcom X," "Glory," "The Hurricane," "Flight" or many others and make a good case for each one. The man is one of the best actors in the business and he has six Oscar nominations and two Oscar wins to show for it. And each of those numbers might go up by one on a month or two with Denzel being one of the front runners to win best actor at this year's ceremony. If you like Denzel, then you need to go out and see his third directorial effort that might win him his third gold trophy for acting. Enough said.

But OK. I'll continue with the actual review. Oscar season is my favorite movie season of each year. Even if the actual ceremonies get everything wrong (which is often the case), there are always a whole ton of phenomenal Oscar hopefuls thrown at us all at once. Because most of the old men voting have memory loss and sometimes forget that movies are released from January through October, most of the studios save their biggest Oscar hopefuls for the end of the year and expand throughout December and January. It's movie heaven every year for movie fans with so many great movies coming out at once. All those people saying 2016 has sucked and it one of the worst years for film need to get outside their box and search out some of these smaller films. Sure, I'll agree that many of our major blockbusters disappointed. It was a very annoying trend this year, actually. But the Oscar hopefuls have NOT disappointed. I still have a handful of these smaller films that I'm working on getting reviewed, but "Fences" is yet another fantastic film in quite a long string and great films from 2016 that's going to make creating my best of 2016 list quite difficult to put together.

The big takeaway from "Fences" is that it is a clinic on acting. I think this movie would be a perfect movie to show in film classes when you come upon the acting section of the class. With the way this movie is set up, the success of the film is 100 percent on the shoulders of these actors to pull it off and they all hit a home run, leaving me speechless throughout the run time of the film. "Fences" is based on August Wilson's award winning play from 1983 that has won a whole host of awards, most notable being the Tony award for best play in 1987. Even if you did no research on this movie before seeing it, you could probably guess that it is based on a play because the majority of the film takes place in just two different set pieces. Inside the kitchen of the house and outside in the yard. It's a movie that does almost no showing and all telling. What I mean by that we have a cast of characters who all have interesting and complex backstories, but instead of using flashbacks to show us their history or having scenes that show what they did that day, we are treated to a long series of conversations in and around this house between the characters that tell us what is going on and slowly we put together this plot that becomes more interesting the deeper you dive.

Thus I could see how this movie might not be for everyone. If you need a lot of intense action in order to be entertained, this is not for you. If you need drama shown to you instead of told to you by the main characters, this is not for you. Denzel's character does things throughout the day, but we never see what he has done. We don't see him at work. We don't see him spending time with others after work. We are just told from conversations between him and his wife, him and his friend and/or him and his son about what he did. We don't get to see his super complex background, we are told of his background throughout the movie. That's why I say this movie is fully dependent on the actors knowing who their characters are, how the characters should react to each situation and what they should say in these conversations. They need to have the correct emotion, the correct expressions and the correct movements in order for the audience to paint a picture in their heads of what actually happened. Without fail, every actor in this movie hits a complete home run with their performance that put me on the edge of my seat despite the movie consisting of only a long string of conversations.

As far as the setting goes, we are in Pittburgh, Pennsylvania during the 1950's. The movie intelligently touches on race relations going on at the time through these conversations and you can tell that Denzel has a lot of understandable, bitter emotions based on certain things that happened to him through his life and his career that provides tension between him, his wife and his son. His son wants to live life a certain way, but Denzel stubbornly won't let him. You want to hate Denzel for being an overbearing father as you side with the son for much of it, but you also understand where Denzel is coming from. Denzel does a lot of despicable things that make you want to hate his character, but at the same time the movie does a great job of showcasing the human experience and how flawed human beings can do awful things, but yet have good intentions and be worthy of being forgiven. To a certain extent. I fell in love with all of these characters as the movie provide an excellent character study. The movie provides an excellent platform for having thought-provoking conversations about each of the characters in the movie that can be easily paralleled to real life despite what your age, race or life story is. Everyone can probably see themselves in one of these characters.

I think this movie should get Oscar nominations across the board, at least in the acting categories. Of course Denzel deserves an Oscar nomination for bringing to life this extremely flawed human being that you absolutely hate and despise during the first half of the movie, but then come to understand and appreciate during the second half of the movie even if you still don't appreciate certain choices that he made. Perfectly embodying complex characters is something that is always worth praise. But due to his extremely complicated nature and many character flaws, the person that Denzel ends up putting in the spotlight as a consequence is his wife in the movie played by Viola Davis. If I was forced to only pick one person to be given the gold trophy for this movie, it would be her. She's great in just about everything she does, but due to certain circumstances in the movie, the door is opened for her to deliver the performance of her career and she absolutely hits a grand slam with that. While you may hate Denzel in this movie, you will absolutely fall in love with Viola. And the supporting cast around these two also deserve praise. Stephen Henderson as the friend. Russell Hornsby as the older son. Jovan Adepo as the younger son. Mykelti Williamson as the brother. Praise all around.

In the end, if you are a fan of film, "Fences" is an absolute must see. This is a movie that needs to be absorbed and appreciated. And I think this is the type of movie that will only get better the more you watch. I'll be honest, at first I was wondering where the movie was going, but even thought the style of the film didn't change, the further we got into the movie, the more and more I came to like it. I could see the casual movie fan not being madly in love with this, which is why I can't necessarily universally recommend it like I can with "La La Land," but if you are a fan of dialogue-centered movies that require patience as well as focus, then you need to see this film. If you appreciate acting in a film or you want a clinic on how to act, then you need to see this film. If you are a fan of plays, then you need to see this film because not only is it based on a play, but it feels like a play and all the writing credit for the movie is given to August Wilson, the original playwright, despite him having passed away in 2005. This is a movie that I loved and appreciated and I can only see it growing on my over time. For now I will give "Fences" a 9/10, although I can see that going up over time.

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