And I thought “Manchester by the Sea” was sad. But “Fences” blows that depression captured on celluloid out of the water.
Here’s the thing about intentionally sad films – The best ones want to take that sadness and turn it into a positive emotion, one that makes you feel better about how you’ve lived your life and how far you’ve come. And the great ones will actually make you want to change your life. Films like “Schindler’s List” and “Grave of the Fireflies” are some of the most depressing movies I’ve ever seen, but they build up to that one moment where all the terrible things we witnessed for the last two hours is given meaning and we learn that the whole film was a journey of self-discovery during an awful time.
We gain strength through the tragedy of others.
But then you get movies like “Manchester by the Sea” where the main character refuses to learn anything or solve any of his problems because he does not want to talk about it. This leaves us with a series of pessimistic events that only makes you want to frown. A moment that turns every dismal scene into one of hope never comes, which is why I did not care for “Manchester by the Sea.”
“Fences” falls into the same category sadly, but has the pleasure of being even more bitter than “Manchester” as we watch a man try his best to lead a good life for the sake of his family, but his own rage and ego get in the way of everything, to the point where he feels the need to berate everyone who ever cares about him. We watch as his poor life choices wreck havoc on his loved ones, while he remains a stubborn ass.
Troy Maxson (Denzel Washington) is a waste collector in the city of Pittsburgh, and lives in a small rundown house with his wife Rose (Viola Davis) and their teenage son Cory (Jovan Adepo). Troy is always upset with the little money he is given, mostly because he could have been a professional baseball player but he was already in his 40s before the MLB allowed African-Americans and never made it into the league. Cory is given a chance to be on a college football team, but Troy refuses to let him on leave his job at the auto repair shop, despite everyone else saying Cory should be given this opportunity.
With Casey Affleck’s character in “Manchester by the Sea,” at least you could excuse his anti-social behavior due to his tragic past, but Troy is a man who refuses to let anyone else have any fun or live a fulfilling life, but he’s allowed to do whatever we wants. He outright forbids his son from playing football, despite Troy being an athlete himself, and refuses to let his wife do anything other than her wifely duties. And he shuts down the lives of his loved ones all while claiming that this is the right thing to do.
Troy’s dialogue is full of grandiose speeches about how everyone else is wrong and the only right way to live life is by his words. The moment I despised Troy as a character is when Cory asks him why he does not like him, and then gives a diatribe about how its not his job to love or even like his own son, but that he is only here to provide for his son because that’s his job. He treats every conversation, every interaction and every decision like it was his job, and one that he does not want to do. His way is the only correct approach and every one else is foolish for thinking differently than him.
He is, without a doubt, the biggest scumbag of 2016.
Troy’s approach to life does eventually come back to bite him in the butt, especially when his care-free approach to his life, filled with heavy drinking, produces consequences. But even then, Troy thrusts those consequences on his family, especially his wife. And this is where the sadness comes from – A woman who was living her life to the best of her ability by being a good and understanding wife is punished for something she did not do, and its all thanks to her scumbag of a husband, while he refuses to change how he lives his life.
This man is ruining the lives of so many others, whether he is trying to or not. But all he can say is that is who is he is and that it’s too late for him to change.
Part of me hates “Fences,” but I cannot say it’s terrible because there are some great performances here, especially from Viola Davis and the intensity of Denzel Washington. Davis has several great scenes where she has to bawl her eyes out while trying to match the rage of Denzel and she delievers in every scene. Denzel is at his best when he talks about his encounters with death and the Grim Reaper, going into great detail about his boxing matches with each of them, yet his refusal to mention anything about heaven or God. When he feels threatened by death that’s when Denzel turns up the heat.
But overall, I did not enjoy “Fences.” There was so much sadness for the sake of sadness that I couldn’t latch onto anything relatable, especially with how stubborn and selfish Troy could be. It is clear by the amount of dialogue and mostly being set in one location that “Fences” was a stage play first and it shows, with lots of soliliques and diatribes. If you enjoy that, then you will get a kick out of “Fences.”
Final Grade: C-