Fences is a superb play, with a great cast, that makes for a reasonably solid film.
Fences was adapted by playwright August Wilson from his 1983 Pulitzer-Prize-winning stage play. Although Wilson passed away in 2005, the resulting film is very faithful to that stage-bound sensitivity. Perhaps out of respect for the writer, or out of respect for the story’s origin on the stage, director Denzel Washington never really pushes Fences beyond its source material. Fences has a superb A-list cast, but it never quite feels like a feature film adaptation.
Instead, Fences feels like it is trapped somewhere in the limbo between stage and screen, feeling like one of those adaptations from the earliest days of television when the medium never knew exactly where it fell between those two pillars. Fences retains a tight cast and a very fixed location, much like the stage play. It retains monologues and confrontations that play out over extended scenes that recall theatre rather than taking advantage of cinema’s ability to let time lapse.
To be fair, the cast superb and the source material is impressive. It is easy to understand why Washington adopted such a reverent and respectful approach to the cinematic adaptation. However, Fences never feels like anything more than the sum of its very impressive parts. In fact, it might feel like a little less.