I love movies. I love writing about them. Hope you like reading what I write.
When Denzel Washington is in a bad movie, he makes it great. When he’s in a great movie, what amazingness indeed are we liable to get?!
Fences is his third directorial effort. Written by the late August Wilson and based on his play, this film tells the story of a black family in America with a father, played by Washington, who has a secret that could tear them all apart.
I am an enormous fan of the work of Arthur Miller and I can tell August Wilson was by the way this story is told. 1950s suburbia, a lot of it in a back garden, this has Miller prints all over it. However, to call it “a black Arthur Miller story” would be enormously insulting an inaccurate.
While it has the traditional Miller protagonist in the form of Troy, a man with secrets and flaws, poking holes into the idea of the American dream and the concept of the good and true father, I think Wilson took this character one step further. As a black man in the 50s, Troy is all too aware of the failings in the American dream. He also has a more complex motivation than most father types in these sort of movies and it is played across a greater period of time, Fences taking place over the course of years rather than a few days like in something like All My Sons.
Translating plays to film is often a case of taking the text and adding a couple of cutaway moments in between scenes. The one piece of unique advice I can give to any hopeful screenwriters is practice in this type of adaptation to get used to what makes a movie cinematic on the page. Because that transfer is a little more complex, not only do you have the odd change of location, but you’re dealing with the motivations for those changes.
What Denzel did along with Wilson and Tony Kushner, who is an uncredited co-writer, was take the power of the words of the play and treat the language of cinema as an extension of them. The camera is dynamic and always changing its style when it has to like a good camera should.
Denzel, of course, is in top form as an actor here, having played Troy on stage before, but what genuinely amazed me was his skill as a director. Not since 12 Angry Men have I seen such a deft understanding of the balance between being a play and a film.
The rest of the cast, including Viola Davis and Stephen Henderson, all provide such brilliantly human performances.
We are deep into Oscar season in Britain. I hope I can see all of them this year before the ceremony, but all I can say right now is that Casey Affleck is really having to run for his money for his Best Actor award. Once again we have a really, really good film.
Reviews of good films are hard!
Recommended Scenario: If you want an excellent handling of words acting and visuals.