Denzel Washington directs and stars in this drama about an African American father trying to raise his kids in 1950’s Pittsburgh.  If you love live theater and strong performances, then you will probably really appreciate this film.  If you don’t, then you are in for a two hour slog of dialogue and questionable messages.

The Good

Viola Davis and Denzel Washington


Notice how I put Viola Davis before Denzel.  Yes, that was intentional.  Viola Davis is fabulous as the strong moral center of the film, and is an excellent counterpart to her co-star.  You can definitely tell that she is giving it her all here, and it is masterful.  Unlike Suicide Squad, this is a sensational showcase of her pure acting talent and, if I’m going to be honest, she “out Denzel’s” Denzel.

Whenever Denzel Washington is in a movie it’s something to look forward too.  He is one of the most respected, important, and talented actors in the industry and has been for the past 20 or so years.  With that being said, I thought that Denzel did a great job as this up’n coming yet very broken father in this film, but he did not wow me here like he has in the past.  Part of it may have been in the screenplay, which I’ll get into later, but as I said before, Viola Davis just shines brighter for me.  Both I’m sure will receive Oscar noms for their roles, but I will be much more shocked and upset if Denzel receives one over Viola than vice-versa.

Denzel’s Direction and the Cinematography


This is clearly a film that Denzel put his heart and soul into.  You can sense the amount of attention and care that he put into each and every scene, which are all very well crafted and performed.  How this film is shot really plays into that “theater-like” feel I mentioned before.  That’s really how I would describe the look of this film: someone literally filming a play in a cinematic way.  This is very different than what we may be used too, which helps the film in that it’s new and interesting, but also hurts the film in my opinion.  This leads me into the problems I have.

The Bad

Came to See a Movie, Left Having Watched a Play


While it may be an interesting way of adapting a play, it really didn’t work as a movie for me.  Before I go on, I should mention that I am not a theater person.  Theater just does not pull me into a story the same way that the cinematic experience does.  I never really see the story’s location (just a giant set piece) and I never really see a story’s character, (only a over-dramatic performers).  So with that being said, that’s probably why these problems stick out.  The entire film is almost completely set in one location (much like in theater).  I can deal with that since it’s an actual house that we can travel in and out of as viewers, but I really couldn’t deal with how a lot of these scenes were framed.  Much of the dialogue just did not feel natural to me because, again, it feels like two or three people just running through lines off of a script, and they did so by moving from one part of this singular set to another…much like a play.  (See a common theme here?)  And these bits of dialogue are long, like REALLY long, which only makes this problem worse.

What the Hell are We Even Talking About?


Speaking of dialogue, I had no idea what we were even talking about for a solid quarter of this movie.  Not because they’re speaking about complicated topics or that it’s hard to understand them, but because they literally talk about nothing and do so ad nauseam.  Now this is fine to do every now and then to develop characters or for story exposition, but the dialogue in this movie is neither of those.  I honestly had no idea what was going on for the first third of the movie!  Thankfully, this starts to clear up more by the end of film, but by the time we get there we have to question why we needed to witness all of that in the first place.  So, this mixed with the dialogue already not feeling very natural obviously does not bode well for the film.

A Message Movie Without a Message


I believe this film is supposed to teach us something about respect and hard work.  To pick yourself up, be your own man, and make yourself successful.  Unfortunately, everywhere this film builds these messages up is completely tarnished by the fact that Denzel’s character (Troy) is a giant dirt bag.  He is completely self-centered and can’t even justify his grimy behavior to his loved ones when he needs to.  Now, this wouldn’t bother me so much if the film didn’t try to end with everyone in the family praising his efforts in what’s supposed to be a big sentimental sigh of reminiscence.  Troy almost completely destroys a quaint, yet happy life because of his selfishness and pride, yet I’m supposed to accept and believe that he bettered all of those around him?  Yeah, I don’t think so.

The Tally

Performances: 5/5

  • Viola Davis gives a very powerful and palpable performance and is the real star of the show.
  • Denzel also does a great job here, but I feel like I was just watching Denzel Washington play a scum bag version of Denzel Washington.

Direction: 3/5

  • Denzel has a very good eye for the camera and leads his fellow cast members to great performances.
  • The manner of which this movie is filmed is rather bothersome.  I was not fond of the use of long takes mixed with it’s theater-like style.
  • Scenes didn’t really feel very natural because of this and I had a hard time getting into the story as a result.

Production: 4/5

  • This is a good looking film.  The cinematography is very pleasing.
  • Costume design was very believable and timely.
  • The singular set was a little annoying and played into the theater style (which I did not appreciate, in case you haven’t noticed yet).

Writing: 3/5

  • The script itself is not terrible, and there are plenty of very well written scenes here.
  • Dialogue is very questionable in many of these scenes and leads me to question what we’re even watching.
  • The ending does not make a lick of sense to me since Troy’s character is not likable in the least bit by the end of the film.

Score: 3/5

  • Nothing overly special here.  May have been stronger had the film been better.

Entertainment: 2/5

  • I did not particularly enjoy this film, and much of the blame goes towards it’s style and questionable ending.
  • The only real redeeming factor for me was watching Viola and Denzel show off their talents.

Total Score: 17/30

Final Score: 5.6/10

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This movie is getting a lot of praise and I can guarantee that I’m in the minority of people that did not particularly like it.  Again, it’s likely because I really don’t enjoy theater that much, and this film is basically a play on-screen.  So while I didn’t appreciate it, there are plenty of people who did, which is great!  I find it harder to accept how one appreciate’s the ending “message” though, but to each their own!  Let me know what you thought of Fences below!