Could one more simplistically translate something from the stage to the screen, probably not? Does that really matter when the performances are still as phenomenal if not more affecting than they were on the stage? Well, sadly it does, as you aren’t justifying the adaptation and properly translating it to the big-screen, but rather adding a veil of prestige over a simple copy-paste.
Now, as for the performances in the film and August Wilson’s story, I cannot argue against their greatness. Denzel Washington truly commits to the project, giving it his all and Viola Davis does the same, bringing a ferocious bravado to her acting. People might dismiss it as loud-acting, a showboat for The Academy, but it’s great nonetheless, these are certainly performances that will stay with you and haunt your thoughts long after you’ve left the cinema. Washington and Davis are powerhouse performers and watching them spar with words on-screen is like an incredible boxing match for film fan. I mean, Viola Davis literally puts tears, sweat, and snot into her performance as she retorts Washington’s comments. But when she’s not delivering the scene they’ll play as The Academy hands her the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress (which should totally be for Best Lead Actress), she also delivers an emotionally nuanced performance that speaks to the range she has an actress. As for Denzel, as great as he is, he’s performance is more centered around these grand monologues and rambunctious conversations. At the hands of another actor this might just look like someone trying to show-off, but the way Washington fully delivers himself to the role is fantastic and of a resounding prowess.
As to the negatives I’d mentioned earlier, this is basically only a film because it got released in theaters. Seriously, Dracula: Pages from a Virgin’s Diary feels more like a movie and that’s literally the filming of a stage-play. I don’t mind movies confined to a single location, in fact I love films confined to a single location like Locke or 12 Angry Men, but the way it’s dealt in this film feels heavily dull and redundant, making the already long runtime feel even worse. Washington’s lack of adapting and surrender to the safest possible adaptation of the play possible feels cheap.
As for the archetypal tragedy Wilson depicts in Fences, it’s beautifully crumbling. Playing in his familiar Pittsburgh playground, Wilson’s tale of a family in crisis where the relationship between father and family is one purely based on currency is a tale of supreme sadness depicted so eloquently by an artist. As he mirrored every other single element, Washington also brings the same emotional vibrancy that Wilson wrote onto the screen.
Denzel Washington manages to bring the intelligence and power of Wilson’s play, as well as gather tour-de-force performances from everyone of his actors including himself. But, his decision to not change almost any aspect of the play in adapting it to the film fails, rendering the film adaptation of Fences somewhat dull if it weren’t for the hyper-talented Davis and Washington keeping the project afloat.