Thursday, January 5, 2017

Fences: Monday, December 26 2016

Fences is based on a play of the same name (1983) by August Wilson, which won a Pulitzer Prize and an Emmy Award. Wilson wrote the screenplay before he died in 2005. Set in Pittsburgh, it explores the experience of Black people in the United States. The film feels like a stage play, and the drama lies in the characters of the people.

Denzel Washington directs the film, and also stars as Troy Maxson. The direction is tight, and kept my attention riveted throughout. No problem in trying to stay awake because of boredom. The performance as Troy Maxson by Washington is masterly, and shows off his abilities in a way some of his other roles haven't. Viola Davis plays Troy's wife, Rose Maxson. All I can say is, she is incredible, and I was totally impressed by her. No question that this is Oscars material. I also was moved by Jovan Adepo as Cory Maxson, Troy's youngest son.

Fences is a story told by a Black man about the lives of Black people. It is authentic and the acting is so superb it feels like real life. Troy and Rose, and all the others in the film, will remain with me. If this film wins the Oscar as Best Picture, it will be because it is worth it. It certainly won't be because it is a concession to the pressures of tokenism.

The additional appeal of this film for me is that the story is universal. It unfolds before us; a handsome, charismatic man, with a charming personality, whom we want to like, and the effect he has on his family. A charmer outside his family, he is a domineering bully inside it. Rose loves him, but is also afraid of him. She has stuck to him throughout their marriage, and in a dynamic speech, reminds him of this, and that she has given up her own life for him. This is the feminists' nightmare; it applies to all such relationships, no matter what colour the skin. Rose has no economic power as she is dependent on Troy for money. She is also following an external code of behaviour, rather than what she really needs or even wants. She moved me greatly as she voiced the situation that so many women are trapped within.

Fences is a fantastic film, but not happy or uplifting. It's almost too true to life, and is a tragedy. Troy, who has so much going for him in his good looks and charming personality, good job, loving wife and son, is his own worst enemy, as are tragic heroes. And as all tragic heroes, he is beyond redemption. He is totally not self- aware, so can't change. As do all narcissists, he has a destructive effect on the people around him. He has so much, and could have been so happy, but instead, he is constantly carping on about how life is treating him so unfairly. We really want to be on his side, but his behaviour and attitudes prevent that.

I am a great fan of Denzel Washington, and although I admire and appreciate his performance in this role, I was so disappointed to end up not liking his character. In real life, there is no excuse for anyone being totally egocentric. I could find no excuse for Troy's behaviour in this film.

It would appear that all the old guidelines around making entertainment are being overthrown. Is it enough that the story line is real life, and not dramatic, per se? Is it enough that the acting is so fantastic that the character is realistic, but just a very ordinary person? Why were the guidelines developed if this is true? Isn't it because this is not true, that writers have analysed what makes an entertaining story, and followed the results of research?

This film is worth seeing because technically it is so good, and the performances are a delight, but don't expect, or hope, to be uplifted. This is not a "feel-good" movie, and left me with a feeling of despair at the psychologically immature condition of so many of the human race of all skin colours.

No comments: