Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Sandler Wexler


Today's review is brought to you in anticipation of an exciting development of my life in film analysis. I will soon be releasing a video essay on the filmography of Adam Sandler and to celebrate and prepare you for this event, let's take a look at his most recent release. This is Sandy Wexler.

The titular Sandy (Adam Sandler) is a talent manager; not a talent agent though, he's quick to point out that the former means family. He has a small body of odd-job clients on the lowest rung of entertainment which he lies to constantly and a party of other celebrities inform us through faux-interviews about Sandy's other annoying habits. Despite having the appeal of a toad, Sandler manages to sign Courtney Clarke (Jennifer Hudson), a young singer who has that something special. As her talent is recognised and Sandy's affections for her grow, she begins to be drawn to the bigger agencies and the disappointment begins to affect Sandy's work and relationships.


Sandy Wexler is one of Sandler's completely unjustified now eight film deal. However, it is also the most complete. Don't misunderstand this, the film is heavily flawed, but after his last two dismal efforts (that is, The Ridiculous 6 and The Do-Over), Sandy Wexler almost seems good. It's by no means Sandler's best performance or even close, but it is consistent and oddly likeable. Despite all of Sandy's habits, he is strangely charming with Sandler fitting the role well. It gave purpose to his annoying voices, though at times they can grate. Oscar winner Hudson doesn't feel out of place here either and seems to draw out Sandler's better performance, similar to the way Jack Nicholson did in Anger Management. This being said, Sandy seems older than Sandler and Courtney feels younger than Hudson, creating a jarring and uncomfortable tension between the romantic leads. It never quite feels natural or professional - he is her manager after all.


Where Sandy Wexler falls down is primarily in every other aspect. It's length is completely unnecessary; there is not enough narrative to fill its two hour runtime, which leaves director Steven Brill cutting away to too many celebrity talking heads, and spending too much time with pointless side characters (do Nick Swanson's daredevil or Jackie Sandler's struggling actress add anything to the story arch at all?). Despite that extra length, the conclusion is entirely unsatisfactory and unrealistic. Throughout the second half of the movie, Sandy's career starts to plummet but after one nonsensical scene where he is literally a puppet for ventriloquist Ted Rafferty (Kevin James), everything suddenly turns around but without rhyme or reason. It's a little bit too neat and a huge let down. However, there are some redeeming factors. There are some excellent lighting choices and, perhaps an even rarer experience in a Sandler movie, some genuinely funny moments.

The stakes in Sandy Wexler are never quite high enough to make us care. Is the love story, Courtney's success, or the rest of Wexler Artist's careers the main focus on the story? What's Sandy's objective? It's clunky and messy, but endearing and charming. The support cast are predictably terrible, Rob Schneider is again playing the token foreigner, but Sandy has a heart it's not some lazy half-assed attempt at story-telling like Sadler's recent outings. It's the first time in years that Sandler is producing a story he seems to care about and while it is not a great success, it is a step in the right direction.


Monday, 27 February 2017

Oscar Reviews: Part III

If Best Pictures are not enough to wet your appetite for this weekend's Academy Awards, here are some other nominated films that I have reviewed just for you:

Nocturnal Animals (Best Supporting Actor)



Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal, two of Hollywood's biggest and most talented stars, star in this meta-thriller. It's dark and uncomfortable but features some of the best performances of its cast's careers. Aaron Taylor-Johnson is nigh on unrecognisable, whilst Michael Shannon has received an oscar nod for his performance. Tom Ford's screenplay (based on Austin Wright's novel) is electric, jumping back and forth between reality and the novel 'Nocturnal Animals' within which the main action takes place. 


The screenplay is incredibly clever, taking what is in essence a home invasion narrative, and reversing it. Instead of being trapped in a house, Gyllenhaal's Tony and his family are trapped out in the open by a group of psychopaths. The tension could be cut with a knife throughout this entire side of the film which takes place inside a novel being read by Amy Adam's character, Susan, whilst she struggles with her relationship and career in reality. Gyllenhall really gets a chance to shine in his dark narrative but he also plays real life ex-partner of Susan, providing him the opportunity to express real range. 



Life, Animated (Best Documentary)

A heart warming documentary Life, Animated follows Owen Suskind, a boy with autism who, struggling to convey how he was feeling, turned to Disney movies where scenes were more applicable. 


Owen's joy and passion for animated movies is contagious; he is excitable and likeable, running an extra-curriculum high school club to analyse Disney movies in which he and his classmates can look at what the movies can teach them and how they might be able to apply these lessons to their own life. It's a lovely and joyful film, but it is outshone by the documentaries that are trying to enlighten end engage in social discourse. Alongside the likes of 13th and Fire at SeaLife, Animated lacks any real depth. It's educational and insightful, but ultimately forgettable. 



A Man Calle Ove (Best Foreign Language Film, Best Hair and Make Up)


It's not often that a film opening with a man attempting suicide on multiple occasions turns out to be hilarious, but A Man Called Ove is a joy. It's a moving drama where life keeps getting in the way of Ove's death, and it is full of comedy and heart. 


At first, it's unclear who Ove is or why he is (or appears to be) as grumpy as he is, but as the film goes along and more information is revealed, more and more meaning and revelation is found. In the end, there's a sense of community overcoming the pain of the past despite the slightly underwhelming and depressing conclusion. A Man Called Ove is arguably the best thing to come out of Sweden since Abba. 



Sully (Best Sound Editing)


For most of us,  the miracle on the Hudson was little more than an incredible news story, one pilot's heroic actions saving all of his passenger's lives. But we don't know the investigations that happened behind the scenes; we don't know about the nightmares and the marital stress. Sully is here to pick up what the news left out. 

A remarkably good film for what it really is - a few depositions and a court case, interspersed with memories from the crash landing. But Todd Komarnicki's screenplay is so well handled by Clint Eastwood, that there is constant suspense. We build up one interrogation by the corporate bosses to boiling point before jumping back in time and providing some answers. Tom Hanks and Aaron Eckhart have amazing on screen chemistry too, making all the easier to root for the pilots even when everything seems against them. The film is flawed in some respects, for example, the corporate bosses who are intent on pinning the crash on Sully's (Hanks) poor judgement, are archetypal bad guys - they don't seem to want answers, they appear to have a malicious and targeted set of motives. 



The Red Turtle (Best Animation)


Sometimes, words are not needed to tell a great story. Take The Red Turtle as a good example. Not a single word is spoken, though there is a little yelping at points, and despite this, the film is a huge success. The characters, simply designed though they are, are emotive and their expressions and body language do the story telling in the absence of words. 


Once you can get over the slightly bizarre concept of turtles becoming human, The Red Turtle is a bold yet understated film. It is not flashy or showy, its simple 2D animation done to an excellent standard. It's short, simple, and sweet. Think Castaway but more gentle; you still won't want to be stranded on a desert island though...



Deepwater Horizon (Best Visual Effect, Best Sound Editing)


For a film nominated only in technical categories, Deepwater Horizon has been deeply under represented. This is a film that uses every element of the medium to create a living nightmare, the camera ducks and dives to cause disorientation, the sound is at full volume to immerse the viewer in the panic onboard the Deepwater Horizon. 



This is a disaster movie by every sense of the word and the horrible thing is it is real. BP really were negligent in their actions and Peter Berg does not sugarcoat the situation. It succeeds where Sully failed by providing the bosses with a motivation for their interference: money. This is an unpleasant film but an important one. 

Sunday, 26 February 2017

Banks


The West may may have calmed down since the days of old, but that doesn't mean its stopped being wild. The desert planes are still unforgiving and crime is still being fought by good officers of the law. This is Hell or High Water. 

The Howard brothers, ex-con Tanner (Ben Foster) and divorced father Toby (Chris Pine), need a quick pay day in order to save the old family ranch and what is quicker than holding up several banks at gun point. The inexperienced brothers begin a spree, hitting banks from several towns, but veteran cop Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges) and his partner Alberto Parker (Gil Birmingham) are not far behind them. As well as the police, the gun friendly state inhabitants of the Texas do not take too kindly to thieves in their home town giving the brothers another challenge to face.


Hell or High Water's first and most powerful achievement is creating a level of sympathy for both the robbers and the law. The screen time is split relatively evenly between the two of them, making it difficult to form a bias towards one pair or the other and the brothers are not positioned as cruel or malicious, at least not from the outset; they want to protect their family and their home. This builds an interesting tension that shifts back and forth throughout the film, forcing the audience to switch their alliances time and again. It's engaging and exciting, creating a moral conflict that we, the audience, have to make our own minds up on.


David Mackenzie's neo-western is brilliant addition, and in many ways, extension to the genre. It's a classic cat and mouse chase with Jeff Bridges putting in a fantastic performance as Hamilton, always one step behind the brothers. But like any good chase, its full with twists and surprises with only a few moments that drag. The screenplay plays a heavy hand in this - it is full of wit and intelligence, building phenomenal characters but also creating tension and suspense for a showdown of a final act. That wit also comes out in moments of hilarity and slapstick, but that doesn't mean this isn't a serious film. Hell or High Water takes its craft very seriously, staying true to Western motifs without feeling dated. Like the Coen's No County for Old Men, Hell or High Water has brought a fresh feeling to the southern states.

Fresh, fun, and thrilling. David Mackenzie takes on Taylor Sheridan's screenplay and breathes magic into it. Its a wonderful film and crafted magnificently. This is a commitment of love to film and it shows.

Home


We all wanted to run away from home one time or another, but few of us attempted it. Even fewer of us did it accidentally. But what would happen if you got lost, ending up thousands of miles from your home and family? This is Lion.

Over 80,000 children are lost in India each year. A terrifying and shocking statistic but Lion just looks at one example. After young Saroo (Sunny Pawar) is separated from his brother Guddu (Abhishek Bharate) at a train station and ends up on a train travelling away from home, he becomes lost and alone. He remains calm and rides the waves of chance that take him from one temporary home to another before being flown out to Australia to be adopted by Sue (Nicole Kidman) and John (David Wenham). Jump forward 20 years where Saroo (now Dev Patel) has made a home and a family for himself, but whilst he has gained a family, back home his mother has lost one.


Lion takes on two adventures: one away from India, and one back. Despite an incredible performance from Patel - who is easily the best thing about the second act - the journey to find Saroo’s family is flawed. The pace drops completely, which is understandable considering most of Saroo’s searching is through scrolling on Google Earth, but there’s also awkward and under-explained tension between Saroo and his adoptive brother Mantosh (Divian Ladwa). However, the first act is a moving, beautifully shot journey into the unknown. Sunny Pawar is an exceptional young talent and displaying a huge range of emotion and skill despite his age.


At this point, one needs to return to Dev Patel's performance as a 20-something year old Saroo. From humble beginnings on Skins, Patel has come a long way. Despite the clunky execution of the second act, Patel does an incredible job with what director Garth Davis gives him to work with. This is easily his best work; it is captivating and powerful, overcoming the issues of an awkward transition into the present day. The other success of Lion is its cinematography. Throughout, this moving story is captured beautifully by the camera - the landscapes of India and Australia, both rural and urban, have hardly looked better. It captures the intention of each scene, causing disorientation for the audience when Saroo is panicked, or creating calm when things are more serene. 

Lion is an emotional film, but one that lacks a satisfying climax. For such a large build up, the resolution is underwhelming; a bit more time spend on the conclusion and a bit more time spend on developing relationships in the second act would have benefited the movie massively. But altogether, a warm and touching tale of one boy’s journey home.

Black


Drugs, race, homophobia. These are all powerful topics to approach in a film separately, let alone together. Is it ambition and bravery, of stupidity and foolishness? Let’s look to Moonlight to see.

One man’s life contains many stories; far too many to easily include in a two hour screenplay. That being said, Moonlight provides the cliff notes for its protagonist's journey from childhood to adult hood, with a pit-stop at the teenage years for good measure. Chiron (Alex R. Hibbert) is a young boy, bullied and excluded by the bigger boys at school. His mother (Naomi Harris) has fallen victim to a drug habit leaving Chiron to often fend for himself. However a drug dealer Juan (Mahershala Ali) and his girlfriend Teresa (Janelle MonĂ¡e) take him in when his home is not friendly, and treat him right. As Chiron (now Ashton Sanders) grows up, the bullying gets more severe, his sexuality and friendships become more confusing, and his life seems to spiral out of control. Eventually, we get to see where all of this gets him in the third act of the film.


Structured into three acts - Little, Chiron, and Black - Moonlight cleverly manages to essentially sew three shorts together to create a modern masterpiece. It doesn't have to show immediate relationship between actions and consequences, instead allowing them to play out over a lifetime giving the film a punchy pace, with nothing feeling unexplained or out of place. It also allows the film to build to multiple climaxes, one within each act, the most striking of which is in the middle episode - everything before builds to this point, everything after is a result of it. Director Barry Jenkins bombards the audience with visual information and it is glorious; it makes the film beautiful to watch as well providing extra detail about what is happening.


With stunning performances throughout, Moonlight allows a varied cast the opportunity to shine, with its lead played by three different actors - youngster Ashton Sanders playing the teenage Chiron is the standout of the three - but the best performances are in the supporting cast. Naomi Harris is at her very best in a hugely emotive role. It’s a role full of pain, and Harris doesn’t hold back. Mahershala Ali too, as Juan, is phenomenal. Though he is only present for the first act, his performance is easily the most memorable of the two hour runtime and his impact is lasting. Here, he solidifies his name as one of the go to actors in Hollywood.

Moonlight is a brilliantly and beautifully told story. It is proof that a film’s topic doesn’t have to be big and grand or based on some incredible story; a simple story told well is more powerful than powerful story executed poorly.

Friday, 24 February 2017

Awkward




Some things in life take you by surprise and turn everything upside down. It can complicate relationships, the way you communicate, and change who you are. And when that happens a few times, it can become overwhelming. This is Manchester by the Sea.

Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) is the caretaker of a block of apartments where everyone treats him like dirt. He is an awkward guy, swearing at tenants and fighting in bars, struggling to really connect with anyone. So when his brother dies of heart complications, leaving behind a son, Patrick (Lucas Hedges), and a will listing Lee as his new guardian, it's no surprise that Lee finds it difficult to adjust to this new development. Conflicted by his new role in life which is trying to force him to relocate to Manchester from Boston, he and Patrick butt heads over how they see their lives progressing, but ultimately they are both trying to cope with grief in their own way.


Writer/ director Kenneth Lonergan has created an extraordinary piece of cinema here. It's understated and gentle in its approach but its narrative structure and pacing really pack a punch. We're introduced to Lee as a mystery figure - 'is that the Lee Chandler?' one character asks - and slowly Lonergan reveals the secret side of his protagonist, building up a story line in the present before flashing back to expose Lee's past with precise timing for maximum effect. This is assisted in no small part by remarkable, career defining performances by Casey Affleck and Lucas Hedges. Their on-screen chemistry (and this extends to the further cast also, but the two leads particularly) encapsulates Lonergan's screenplay, hitting every off beat pause and every awkward interruption. The camera lingers uncomfortably in the middle of broken dialogue and jarring conversations, or even moments of strained silence. It's painfully funny; we are the flies on the wall of Lee's life as he stumbles and stutters through it.


Manchester by the Sea is arguably flawless in its execution. Despite its hilarity, it is also desperately sad at points which helps to demonstrate Affleck's range but also adds variety to the film. his rows with his wife Randi, played incredibly by Michelle Williams, serve to show both Randi and Lee's darker sides, their hurtful sides. In less capable hands, it would suffer from tonal inconsistencies, but not here. In Lonergan's hands, this is where the film thrives, building on the changes in pacing and tone to allow for the greatest impact. The deeper the film goes, too, the better it gets - it never loses its way or tries to be more than it is. It is confident in itself, comfortable in its awkward, uncomfortable screenplay and performances. Despite having a socially disconnected, the film is driven by emotion and the passion is clear, even if it is understated. 

A well crafted screenplay, brought to life by its author and embodied by its cast. There are many moving parts in Manchester by the Sea and they are all committed to telling this story to the best of their abilities. The result is a marvellously moving, captivating and hilarious piece of cinema.





Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Oscar Reviews: Part II


If Best Pictures are not enough to wet your appetite for this weekend's Academy Awards, here are some other nominated films that I have reviewed just for you:

Doctor Strange (Best Visual Effects)




A mind boggling, world changing movie. I mean that literally, that is to say Scott Derrickson's Doctor Strange bends the world to his will making for some of the most captivating action sequences of the year. Doctor Strange gives the MCU something fresh, a little like Guardians of the Galaxy two years ago. Benedict Cumberbatch as the titular character takes some time to get used to - he's almost an American Sherlock - but he is a lot of fun. His charismatic charm, despite his arrogance, is thoroughly entertaining and as he learns to develop his powers, he also brings magic to the movie.


The product of all of Doctor Strange's moving parts is one of Marvel's best solo films, and certainly one of the finest origin stories. The supporting cast (Chiwetel Ejiofor, Tilda Swinton, Benedict Wong, Rachel McAdams, and antagonist Mads Mikkelsen) are all in excellent form and throughout, the film never drops in pace or entertainment. From fighting and flying capes, to an inception-Esque style folding of London, there is undoubtably something for everyone but not in the same vein as some of the other Marvel cannon. Whilst they are universally appealing, they are also risk-averse. Like Guardians of the GalaxyDoctor Strange steps out of the box and to great reward. 



Kubo and the Two Strings (Best Animated Feature, Best Visual Effects)


Stop-motion animation is, without a doubt, one of the most remarkable methods of film making there is. It takes hours of additional physical labour, patience, and dedication as well as all the normal vision and drive of any other movie. Kubo and the Two Strings is a delightful, bedtime-story-esque adventure into a mystic land full of magic and charm. Stunning visuals and a witty script elevate Kubo to great heights, challenging the might of studios like Disney and Pixar. 


A hugely talented vocal cast including Matthew McConaughey, Charlize Theron, Ralph Fiennes and plenty of household names assist in making Kubo a must-see animation but truly, it is Travis Knight and his team that have accomplished something truly special in the construction of the film. The sheer ambition of the film makers for approaching stop-motion animation riddled with magic and special effects and pulling it off successfully should be applauded, and perhaps rewarded.



Moana (Best Animated Feature, Best Original Song)


Disney's latest princess flick takes place in the adventurous pacific and follows the adventure of young Moana (Auli'i Cravalho), who is destined to be the next chief of her tribe, as she tries to return the heart of goddess Te Whiti to its place. It was stolen by Demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson) but he also tags along for some of the ride. Moana has a lot going for it. The music, spectacularly performed by the cast, is a lot of fun which is unsurprising considering that Hamilton's Lin-Manuel Miranda had a hand in the writing. The highlights include the new go-to karaoke classic 'How Far I'll Go', as well as 'You're Welcome' and 'Shiny' - two hugely entertaining numbers. The animation itself is glorious, capturing the beauty of the Pacific islands as well as the culture of its inhabitants.


However, the film is a little clunky in its execution. The narrative makes leaps when it fancies - the ocean plays an important part in the mission, but only when it solves a problem the characters can't seem to overcome themselves. It also comes across episodic at points, but they don't naturally flow into each other - there's a sequence with pirate coconuts that is great fun, but doesn't really add anything beyond a bonding experience for the leads. Whilst this is a progressive film for Disney (no love interest at all?!) and a step up from Frozen, it still lacks the cohesion of some of the more loved classics (or even the relatively recent Tangled).



Zootopia (Best Animated Feature)



It's Disney vs Disney in this year's Best Animated Feature: Moana vs Zootopia. It's easy, amongst the Tangleds and the Frozens that Disney produces, to forget the Wreck-It Ralphs and the Big Hero 6s, but these are well-loved, high quality animated features. They sometimes slip under the radar and it is a damn shame as they often surpass their princess counter parts and the more traditional 'Disney' feature films. Zootopia is a fun filled riot of zoological comedy and societal reflection.


Tapping into the air of xenophobia sweeping the world, Zootopia demonstrates a world of prey and predator, of uneasy tensions, of media's effect on how we see one another, but does it with cute animals. Scattered with laugh-out-loud wit led by rabbit Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) and fox Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman), Zootopia takes a dark subject and sprinkles it with joy and inspiration. It's an animated detective thriller that all ages will enjoy, oozing charm and heart like no other animation this year. Highlights include a department of motor vehicles run by sloths (already a great joke, but the whole scene is hilarious) and a chase sequence through the tiny rodent side of town. Nothing feels out of place, everything is connected here. As far as animated fun goes, this is almost as good as it gets.



Captain Fantastic (Best Actor)



Between the years of 2001 and 2003, Viggo Mortensen as Aragorn led a bunch of misfits on a mission across Middle Earth. Now in 2016, he is doing it again but this time he's ditched the hobbits for a group of children. Captain Fantastic is a thought-provoking comedy. Mortensen plays Ben, a sensitive and intellectual father, but who could be easily interpreted as reckless. His six children are rigorously trained and educated in the forest; they are all geniuses and in peak athletic condition. Banned from his wife's funeral, he takes the kids on a mission.


The film begs many questions about politics and paternal rights; Ben clearly cares about his children but he also makes them scale cliff faces. Despite his arrogance and stubbornness, we root for him, but it's uncomfortable and it all culminates in a mission, as he calls them, going wrong. It's both anticipated but unexpected. However, the film is huge amounts of fun. It's like Little Miss Sunshine times ten - the family travel across the country in an old school bus getting into all sorts of hijinks (operation 'free the food') and celebrating Noam Chomsky's birthday early. It's flawed but entertaining and Mortensen is at his best supported by an incredibly talented young cast. Despite the third act dragging a little, the cast keep the audience drawn in right up until the credits roll. 

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Aliens






Language underpins everything in our society. The very pillars of communication have formed over years of linguistics evolving from society to society. All of life has a way to communicate and if one could understand the language of other living things, who knows what lies in the future. This is Arrival.

When strange large extraterrestrial ships appear dotted around the globe as if by magic, it is up to the greatest minds in the world to make contact. There's theoretical physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), linguist Louise Banks (Amy Adams) and there's also the best in American brute force in army Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker). Like twelve other ship landing (or more accurately, hovering) sites around the world, they team up to try to get the life onboard the vessels to answer one question - what is your purpose?


There has been a recent resurgence of quality science fiction films, taking a strong, socially applicable concept (see the need for fuel in Moon or the uninhabitability of Earth in Interstellar), a talented cast, and a director with a bold and cohesive vision. When these elements are combined, the film makers tap into a societal nerve and make something special. Arrival is no exception. In a world where military force is the first port of call when anything happens, Arrival poses a counter argument between brain and brawn, brilliantly represented in one scene where Louise analytically dissects the question the army want to ask, highlighting the necessity of patience and learning. Here, director Villeneuve proves his range and firmly establishes himself as the next big thing, following 2013's Prisoners and last year's Sicario.


Part of the beauty is no doubt in the cast. Once you can get around the notion that Renner is the coolest leading theoretical physicist ever, everything slots neatly into place. Whitaker is in familiar territory too as the authority figure and manages to be a good middle man between the academics and the military. But this is Amy Adams' film. Her performance is intelligent and emotional and is foundational to the film. We feel the fear in her nightmares, we share the joys in her success. It may feel to some like Merck Streep stole Adams' place on the Oscar ballot this year and Arrival (and last year's Nocturnal Animals) is evidence of her talent and her worthiness of further reward.

One part The Day The Earth Stood Still, one part Interstellar, one part E.T., Arrival encapsulates everything a good Sci-fi should. It also hops around back and forth in time through apparent flashbacks and memories, all of which serve to build the climax of the film, to finally reach understanding. It's complexity in the final third causes it to stumble occasionally or drag a little too long, but for the most part it's an exciting, fresh and innovative addition to science-fiction cinema and one that will no doubt provide inspiration to keep the trend of quality sci-fi on the rise.

Baseball






Baseball, racial tension, and garbage men; what do these things have in common? They are all heavily featured in Denzel Washington's fast talking, hard hitting, third directorial feature. This is Fences.

Life has been tough on Troy Maxson (Denzel Washington). He was once an aspiring pro baseball player but never made it due to his race, so he believes. He has a loving wife, Rose (Viola Davis) who supports him and guides him as he strives to support his family. He has a brother Gabriel (Mykelti Williamson) who has a mental disorder, an estranged son, Lyons (Russell Hornsby), who only comes by for money once a week, and a younger son, Cory (Jovan Adepo), who has the potential to be a pro football player. We see Troy juggle these relationships, but keeping up a wall, not letting anyone penetrate or get too close. But when you've seen life chew up people and spit them out, it's hard to share warmth and encouragement with your family when reality is not so kind.


There's no shortage of films about racial oppression at the Oscars this year (13th, Loving, Hidden Figures), but Fences is perhaps the most striking of them all. Its main narrative is one of family under pressure and beneath that is the undercurrent of a systematically racially bias society. This is also a film driven by powerful performances from every member of the cast. Denzel Washington is electrifying, rattling through his mini-monologues at a lightning fast pace and it is mesmerising. He is at his best here, fresh off an award winning run of Fences on Broadway with co-star Viola Davis, Washington delivers a monumental performance as Troy having been able to absorb the character during its time on stage. Davis too, in a supporting role here as the gentle housewife Rose, is on top form and this maybe her year to finally take the Oscar statuette home that she has deserved since The Help. Keeping up with her Broadway co-star and hitting every beat where he lets up his pace the film keeps moving and when those gaps in flow come, the audience notice. The leads' spectacular timing emphasise the narrative and power it forward.


This is film making. Stripped clear of unnecessary extras, Fences demonstrates what can be achieved when you combine a good screenplay with a talented director and an outstanding cast. There's no blockbuster special effects, no plethora of A-list names teaming up to fight a common evil, but what is onscreen is spell-binding. Washington's not only skilled in front the camera, but behind it too. He knows August Wilson's play like the back of his hand and his familiarity with it allows him to finely tune every element of his film adaptation to be the best that it can. Staged and blocked like a play, Washington's camera glides in and out of rooms in the small house, lingering rather than cutting, providing the feeling that we are often looking through that fourth wall. It is effective, allowing the actors to really get involved in their scene, together, without interruption or cutaway.

Washington's achievement is simply astounding. For only his third directorial feature, Fences is an accomplishment to behold. Simple and powerful with stellar performances all round. This is an intelligent piece of cinema that doesn't try to be showy. It uses its medium of film to do the basics of storytelling, but it does those basics phenomenally well.