Set around the life of Troy Maxson, (Denzel Washington) a garbage collector and his wife Rose, (Viola Davis) the film follows the ageing Troy as he ponders on how his life unfolded the way it has. From his brutal beginnings in rural Pennsylvania to the harsh realities of leaving home at 14 to make his own way alone. Full of regrets and struggles with the injustices of life as a black American man on the fifties he spins wild stories to entertain his friends and to elevate his failures. All this while trying desperately to hold on to what goodness and grace he has left in his life and while trying to impart what wisdom he has to his teenaged son on the brink of his own journey.
Fences is a stunning film. Of course with the words of August Wilson, the passion of Denzel Washington and the achingly beautiful intensity of Viola Davis how could it not be. But there is something more I think, more than just the pedigree of the actors and the brilliance of the story. The way this film honored the play is what sets it apart from other film adaptations. The way the camera floated through the streets and the houses and the lives of these deeply fascinating people without forcing any kind of perspective on the viewer is quite masterful.
The cinematographer Charlotte Bruus Christensen, who recently directed ‘Far From The Madding Crowd’ and ‘The Girl on The Train’, has a way of quietly manipulating the camera, leaving so much space in the frame that it gives us the freedom to see everything. So often we are forced as viewers to see only what is specific at that moment, or important to the line, or the cut, or the actor. But Christensen doesn’t play that game, preferring to allow us to see everything and choose what we find to be relevant and what moves us. In fact this beautiful technique allows each viewer to see their own version of the film, and even at each successive viewing to find something more in every frame. Surely this is the most reverent a filmmaker could possibly be to such important and timeless work from such an outstanding and celebrated writer.
Every performance is outstanding. Every actor cast so well that our ability to discern what is real and who is not is completely banished. I have watched every celebrated film so far this year, and I have to say that, having no expectations whatsoever before I saw this film, it is absolutely amongst the best I have seen, this year and for many years.
You may cry, you may wince with familiar pain or sit silent as these wonderful performance play out on screen, but I guarantee you will be moved, and isn’t that what we need most…This film reminded me that so often we spend our precious time fretting over what might have been, or what we think we missed out on that we forget to be grateful for everything we have and what is important, everyone we love and who loves us. In our privileged twenty first century life, how could we possibly understand the difficulties Troy Maxson dealt with every single day, or the bitterness of those times for minorities in America. But we must try to and we must also try to understand that in many ways very little has changed for so very many.
‘Fences’ is a film that will be on critic top-10 lists for many years to come and if Denzel Washington and Viola Davis don’t win Oscars for their incredible performances it will be a tragedy and I will eat my hat.
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