Tag: Denzel Washington

Fences

fencesAdapting a celebrated Broadway play to the screen without it being considered “stagey” can’t be easy. The award winning play Fences opened for its third run in 2010, and here, the play’s five main actors have reprised their role for its big screen treatment.

The play was written by Pulitzer Prize winner August Wilson. His adaptation for the big screen has been posthumously helmed by Denzel Washington. Wilson, who died in 2005, insisted that the film version of his play be directed by an African-American, a decision which has certainly cemented the story’s concern with race. Oddly though, Fences benefits very little from Washington’s hundred-plus stage performances as its protagonist, Troy, bringing to the screen a performance that feels over rehearsed.  The same can’t be said for Viola Davis, whose role as his wife is reprised with genuine authenticity.

Troy is a disgruntled father carrying the baggage of his neglected upbringing, and bitterness over missing a shot at big-time baseball due to the racist selection policy of the fifties. In denying his son (Jovan Adepo) the same opportunity, his flaws are laid bare and serve to fuel the film’s central theme of “legacy” — how we either rebel against what we view as wrong with our parents, or we become their faults and pass it on to the next generation.  The titular fence that Troy builds throughout the film serves as a metaphor to expound upon this theme — “You gotta take the crooked with the straights” is a comment on accepting our flawed nature as human beings as much as it is about the fence itself.

The value added by its adaptation from stage to screen is a subtle one.  Relying heavily on language and performance, it appears to unapologetically eschew the medium it is presented on, employing a very bland filmic style.  What makes this perplexing is that it was shot by Danish cinematographer, Charlotte Bruus Christensen, who is known for some very striking and vivid screen work (The Hunt, The Girl on the Train).

Ultimately it is the script rather than the look that gives the film its “stagey” feel, which is perhaps due to Wilson’s lack of experience with film.  And while a cinematic version of Fences has widened its audience reach, the same can’t be said for widening its appeal. It does have some wonderful and touching moments, but as a whole, Fences is a couple of palings short.

Rating: 3 palings out of 5

You can see the published review here.

The Magnificent Seven

mag7_620x310I regretfully admit that I have not yet seen the 1960 version of The Magnificent Seven (which was originally based on Akira Kurosawa’s 1954 Japanese classic, Seven Samurai). In fact, the whole western genre is a bit of a blind spot for me. However, the positive is that I can look at Antoine Fuqua’s (Training DayThe Equalizer) remake with fresh eyes rather than compare it to the original. Apparently I’m in good company – the film’s star, Denzel Washington, citing similar reasoning, didn’t see the original either.

The plot is relatively simple. Set in 1879, Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard) and his gang roll into town and demand the townsfolk sell their land to him at a cut price. He gives them three weeks to comply before he comes back and takes the town by force. Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett) and her friend Teddy Q (Luke Grimes) head out to a nearby town to enlist help. There they find Warrant Officer Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington), who in turn, enlists six other guns for hire (Chris Pratt and Ethan Hawke among them). Together they nut out a battle plan before Bogue and his heavies return. You can imagine what happens next.

So, how do we justify this remake? Why now? Was there something new and fresh to be told, or was it simply a commercial cash grab? I can see the thinking – conjure up a familiar but compelling plot worthy of recycling, add some heavy hitting actors, and we might just have a hit on our hands. This rationale is fine, but if you’re deciding not to tread on new ground then it puts a heavy onus on “entertainment”.

Here, unfortunately entertainment took a back seat to box ticking. Variation of ethnicities and backgrounds – tick. Stage it like the original classic – tick. Ensure a big finale – tick. Get big name actors – tick. All boxes were checked successfully, yet this film still felt vacuous. The variation of ethnicities felt like they were meeting quotas, with little opportunity given to explore their rich backgrounds. The result left me with a seven that was more “meh”gnificent than magnificent. The staging was so drawn-out and overemphasised it felt too heavy-handed. The long and overcooked finale was a path of violence that left a town so devastated it was barely recognisable. I had to ask myself what the point was. Perhaps Fuqua was angling for a cynical view of violence as a tool to solve disputes. Who knows? Moreover, who cares … I certainly didn’t.

Star rating: 2/5

See the published review here.