Movie review: Fences

Movie reviews

Hello!

The reviews of the awards season continue. Today, we are discussing Fences!

IMDb summary: A working-class African-American father tries to raise his family in the 1950s, while coming to terms with the events of his life.

Writing

The film Fences is a cinematic adaptation of August Wilson’s play by the same name. The play first premiered on Broadway in 1987 and was also revived in 2010, with Denzel Washington and Viola Davis playing the lead characters (as they do in the movie). When watching the picture, it is fairly obvious that it is based on a theatrical play because nothing much happens action-wise. The narrative is mostly dialogue driven and the dialogue itself is extremely dense, full of important backstories as well as plot points for the story. I wouldn’t even call this movie a narrative film – it is definitely more of a personal character study.

Fences touches on quite a few important topics. First of all, it shows the lives of African-Americans in a never before seen period – just before the civil rights movement kicked in (so it kinda follows the trend of a different kind of ‘race’ movie). It also doesn’t really look at the issues of the whole race of people but centers on an individual. The film also looks at the father-son relationship – how the sins of the father weigh down on the son. Fences focuses the most on the character of Troy and discusses a number of themes related to him, like being stuck in the past and not being able to move and raising high standards for others but not keeping to them himself. Troy is a flawed person and that makes him not only relatable but way more interesting.

Fences is certainly not an easy watch – I wouldn’t call this film entertaining in the simple sense of the word – but it is for sure engaging and requires a lot of attention. It looks at a daily life and the serious and the heartbreaking moments of it. Nevertheless, the film also has a few lighter and funnier bits which arise from the same daily life. Its ending is also very beautiful and touching.

Directing

Denzel Washington not only stars in the picture but also directs it (this is his 3rd movie). He has a very clear vision for the film and executes it neatly. However, I don’t think that his direction is that great. I understand his creative choices but I also don’t think that he utilizes the cinematic means of storytelling much or at all. What I mean is that Fences feels very much like a filmed play. It is set in a very limited space – one house – and this type of setting reminds of a theater stage. The long takes look impressive but, once again, they feel more theater-like than motion-picture-like. I really really wish that more visual storytelling techniques would have been used, for example, Troy’s monologs could have been used as the voiceover narrations for the flashback scenes instead of just being told directly to the camera. In short, Fences has a few super engaging dialogue moments but it also drags at times (and this maybe could have been fixed with some more visuals).

Acting

Denzel Washington (The Magnificent Seven, The Equalizer) plays the lead and does an absolutely magnificent job. This role looks like it has been written for him. Viola Davis (Suicide Squad) is also brilliant. She and Denzel play off of each other really well, probably because they have lived with these characters (as I’ve mentioned, they starred in the 2010 Broadway revival of this play). Both Washington and Davis have been nominated for the Academy Awards in the acting categories and they both starred in one mainstream movie this year, so both sides of their career (mainstream and indie) are on the rise or at least doing good.

The supporting characters of the film are played by Stephen McKinley Henderson, Jovan AdepoRussell HornsbyMykelti Williamson, and Saniyya Sidney. They do a good enough job but they also kinda fade into the background when sharing scenes with either Washington or Davis.

In short, Fences is an interesting film that requires constant attention in order to understand it. It has a distinct direction which I don’t particularly like but I cannot praise enough the acting performances of the two leads.

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: Fences trailer

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5 ideas about a movie: Loving

Movie reviews

Hi!

Welcome to a review of a film that started the trend of a different kind of ‘race’ movie being nominated for the big awards. No longer are the films about slavery or the civil rights moments the only ones that the African-American talent can get nominated for. This is a review of Loving.

IMDb summary: The story of Richard and Mildred Loving, an interracial couple, whose challenge of their anti-miscegenation arrest for their marriage in Virginia led to a legal battle that would end at the US Supreme Court.

  1. Loving was written and directed by Jeff Nichols, whose films have always received critical praise but never really got any recognition during the awards season. Loving is his 5th feature. The previous 3 of his films (haven’t seen his debut film Shotgun Stories) all really impressed me with their unique and very personal stories. Take Shelter and Mud were both really good but the original sci-fi picture Midnight Special (his other film from 2016) was like a breath of fresh air in the summer of disappointing sequels and reboots.
  2. In my intro, I mentioned that Loving is not a film about the civil rights moment but it actually kinda is. However, its approach and its focus on the civil rights movement are very different. Loving is not about the big events of the movement that one learns in a history class. It is a personal story about two people who just wanted to live their lives and create a family but were forced to first fight for those rights. And even though The Lovings‘ case was argued and won in the supreme court, the film focused more on the family rather than their court case. The movie almost made the court case and the couple separate from each other. While the court case became something extraordinary, Richard and Mildred remained an ordinary couple. This type of portrayal not only strengthen the argument for their case (that they are just two people who love each and have a right to be married) but also made sure that the viewers would understand that The Lovings aren’t just another name on paper but that they are, indeed, real people.
  3. Like I’ve mentioned already, Loving’s narrative is personal and particular. This goes in line with Jeff Nichols’s previous pictures, which are mostly character studies rather than narrative films. And yet, like Midnight Special or Take Shelter, Loving has a feeling of a wider context and of something bigger and greater being located in the offscreen space. From the narrative structure viewpoint, the film is more or less divided into two parts: The Lovings’ life before the case and the court case + its aftermath. Both parts are equally compelling. Visually, the film is also stunning. Seemingly insignificant shots seem to breathe life.
  4. Ruth Negga stars as Mildred Loving. Mildred was actually the one who started all the court proceedings, so it was really nice to see a female character/a real woman portrayed as an active individual. Negga’s performance was really great and I’m happy to see that she got a few nominations for it. Her career has been on the rise lately. From playing a supporting character on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and having a minor role on Warcraft to starring on Preacher and being a Golden Globe and an Oscar nominee.
  5. Joel Edgerton, who previously worked with Jeff Nichols on Midnight Special, played the role of Richard Loving. His performance was of low energy and quite passive but historically accurate, as Richard has been described as a ‘quiet hero’. Edgerton has received some praised for his previous work on Animal Kingdom, Black Mass, and The Gift, but he also had a few flops with Exodus and Jane Got a Gun. Loving is definitely his best movie yet and I hope that it could be a start of a very positive streak. His 2017 films – Bright (David Ayer’s sci-fi co-starring Will Smith), American Express (Egerton’s brother’s Nash Edgerton’s (longtime stuntman) action flick) and Red Sparrow (Francis Lawrence’s spy thriller) – all have the potential to be great.

In short, Loving tells a different kind of story set during the civil rights movements. It’s slow, personal but universally hopeful. The film also has a lovely cameo from Michael Shannon – a long-time Jeff Nichols’s collaborator.

Rate: 4.5/5

Trailer: Loving trailer

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