I just came back from watching Fences, and I’m calling it now: this movie deserves all the Oscars. I’m saying this after I watched three other high quality films/Oscar contenders – Manchester by the Sea, Lion, and La La Land. Don’t get me wrong, those movies are phenomenal. I wrote why Manchester by the Sea was a well-crafted film (you can catch my review here). I have been thinking about Manchester by the Sea for weeks after I saw it. Lion and La La Land induced different emotions in me than Manchester by the Sea, but were also spot on in storytelling and cinematography (even though in a less intense way than MOS). However, when you put the movies in comparison to Fences, Fences wins hands down.
Fences is a story of an African-American family living in 1960s Pittsburgh. The patriarch of the family is Troy (played by Denzel Washington), who almost had a baseball career but didn’t work out. Instead, he is a trash collector. His wife Rose (played by Viola Davis) simultaneously takes care of the house and her husband, and also a pacifier between her husband and his sons. One of Troy’s sons wants to be a football player, much to Troy’s chagrin, while another one comes for money each week due to financial hardship.
The movie is based off August Wilson’s play of a similar name. The movie stays true to this format in the cinematography and cast size; like a play, the scenes are longer and contained within one place for an extended period. In addition, the film only had a few number of characters. Similar to Manchester by the Sea, Fences doesn’t rely on plot points to tell a story and just brings the audience into the characters’ worlds as an observer. The audience learns much about the family, their relationship’s to one another, their hopes, their disappointments just merely by watching their interactions and listening to their dialogues over one or two things.
What made Fences stand out in using the same format as Manchester by the Sea were the characters and acting. Manchester by the Sea was a well acted film too, but Fences took it just one step further in adding multiple layers to the characters. Denzel Washington’s Troy is a complicated man, who you didn’t know whether to dislike or admire. Washington was so fully into this character that I really had a hard time imagining him being a different person in real life. With some actors, you remember their celebrity status when you see them onscreen, and therefore have a hard time really believing their character (Julia Roberts is a prime example of this). This was not the case with Washington. He created such a distinctive character, not just in the speaking style, but in the physical movements, mannerisms, and overall presence. What I liked most about Washington’s Troy is that though this character had such different circumstances in life as I had, I could empathize and find relatable moments in Troy’s emotions. I haven’t seen as many Denzel Washington movies as I would like but I now understand why he gets the praise he does.
Viola Davis similarly knocked it out of the park. Davis’s Rose was a quieter role in many ways than Troy, but equally important to storytelling on families. One scene in particular (which I won’t spoil) resonated with me because her delivery was emotional and perfectly captured what women have gone through and still go through in domestic situations. In another scene, her facial expressions set the scene’s emotional tone.
In addition to the acting, the overall production is seamless. Each scene fits well with the previous one even though one scene may be emotional and then the next scene it is subdued (or vice versa). As I watched this, I thought of how it accurately depicted real life and circumstances I have faced in the past. The film was true to how day to day life works.
This film is probably not for everyone given the focused, simple, and often times slow pace. I’m unsure whether this will help or hurt its Oscar chances given the Academy’s bias towards movies that follow conventional storytelling mechanisms of more, more, and more. However, if I were on the Academy board voting, I would give this movie all the awards. I left it with intense emotions. Any movie that makes you feel deeply deserves all the awards.