We’re all aware of the phrase TLDNR (Too Long, Did Not Read) for posts on the Internet. This is a segment called TLDNW (Too Long, Did Not Watch). It’s for people that just don’t have time to go to the movies. Now, I work pretty hard every year to see the entire list of films nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars. You probably won’t get to all of them, because I assume you have a social life. Luckily for you, it is my goal in the following weeks to post reviews of the 2017 Oscar-nominated best pictures so that you can be caught up before the big night.
However, I know even reading a whole review is time-consuming and not for everyone. Many people just look at the star rating and don’t bother with the rest of the review. Even now you’re probably bored of this introduction.
So I’ll make it short and sweet. For every movie I review, I’ll include three sections: 1) A 1-word review, because frankly most people are lazy. 2) A 20-word review so you have things to say about the film when your friends ask if you saw it. 3) An in-depth 500-word review.
TLDNW: 1 Word
TLDNW: 20 Words
Viola Davis single handedly hoists this film and drags it through the mud on her shoulders. A Denzel jerk-off.
TLDNW: 500 Words
One and a half out of Four Stars
I’m sure that if I saw Fences as a stage play this would be a rave review. However, Denzel Washington managed to mangle this Pulitzer and Tony award winning play by turning it into a pissing contest.
When August Wilson (the playwright) heard that the play might be turned into a film he insisted that an African American direct to ensure that the play was being treated with care. The script is certainly very tight. Wilson crafts a beautiful look at domestic black life in the 1950’s. The play won a million awards and has been nominated for best-adapted screenplay (a very rare posthumous nomination where the death and the nomination are more than a year apart, sitting at 11 years apart). Unfortunately for Wilson, it was Denzel Washington who took the reigns on directing.
Washington and his co-start Viola Davis both received Tony awards for their work in the stage version of Fences and this is perhaps the crux of Washington’s misstep. He directed the film like an actor. He didn’t direct it like a director, or even a writer, but like an actor. He said, “gee, it sure was great winning a Tony for this play, but only so many people saw it- I know! I’ll do it as a movie so more people can see how good of an actor I am!” And sure, Denzel reads the lines with conviction and is a convincing working-class character in the 1950’s. However, he directs with such closeness and claustrophobia that he forgets that this should be an adaptation of the original. While the majority of the action takes place in one location (as is true in the play), Washington films in tight close ups for most of the film. This seems his one tool for delivering emotion and he misuses it. There is a particularly moving scene where Viola Davis’ character Rose finally snaps and Denzel doesn’t use his close up, instead choosing to shoot from his characters perspective- a mid to wide shot at best. It’s almost like he didn’t want you to forget he was in then movie.
On the stage, the play would have taken place all on one set- the Maxson family home. But on the screen- poorly timed and poorly filmed scenes were forced in to show more of Pittsburg. These scenes stand out like sore thumbs where the rest of the film takes place at the family home. And although I think the film would have been better to show more of Pittsburg these sequences are so forced that they seem false to the film.
Viola Davis, who also garnered a Tony award for her performance on Broadway is an absolute marvel and manages to carry the emotional weight of the film all by herself. She also, unlike many of the supporting cast, convincingly translates the script from stage to screen. She will certainly win and does deserve the best supporting actress statue, but her performance alone cannot save the film.
If the entire project had been handed over to a more competent director the whole thing may have gone better. The film could have been much better off in the hands of someone like Spike Lee, or Steve McQueen or even Ava DuVernay- because they are all filmmakers. Washington is much too concerned with audiences seeing him as a good actor that he forgets to make a good film.