Welcome, everybody, to the wild Wild West, a state that’s untouchable like Elliot Ness. Or, at least, welcome to our catch-up podcast where we touch a number of Oscar contenders in their tender areas. Check out these lukewarm takes on La La Land, Hidden Figures, Trainspotting 2, Hacksaw Ridge, Moonlight, Split, and Fences.
Is there any point in summarising a movie that has so far won all the awards and will no doubt win all of those remaining? Probably not, but on the assumption that a couple of our listeners might have been on some sort of covert Mars mission these last three months allow me to go through the motions.
Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone are Sebastian and Mia, two souls searching for a means to achieving their dreams in contemporary Los Angeles: he is a pianist of some ability who eschews gainful employment in chase of his fanciful plans to open a world-class jazz club, and she is an aspiring actor whose will to succeed is hanging by a thread following the emotional beat-down of a slew of failed auditions. After orbiting and aggravating each other through the gravitational pull of the LA party scene the unlikely pair eventually come together and love blossoms in a relationship that seems destined to fulfil both their dreams, however fate has a couple of cards up its sleeve that deal critical blows to the fairy tale romance. Will the relationship survive? Will either party realise their dream? Will silly people stop questioning whether this qualifies as a musical?
In answer to that last question, and with as short shrift as it deserves, yes it is. Assuming you believe that genres ought to be allowed to evolve without imposing arbitrary goal posts for your own personal gratification then La La Land is quantifiably, indisputably a musical. A lot of the arguments I’ve heard to the contrary seem to be variations on the phrase “the songs aren’t memorable”, but that would be a personal issue of musical taste rather than some failing on the part of director Damien Chazelle and his crew.
Such silliness aside, let us speak of Chazelle who wowed just two years ago with big screen debut Whiplash and decided to follow that reverence with an audacious take on a genre which, bar one or two exceptions, has been missing, presumed dead for the best part of half a century. It’s a bold move and for the most part it pays off. While it may not be perfect in a number of regards, there is certainly nothing else like La La Land out there in multiplexes, and at least part of its financial success can no doubt be attributed to the breath of fresh air it has leant to schedules.
There are difficulties with the movie, and for the first ten to fifteen minutes there is a very real risk that viewers are not going to connect with the main characters; for each moment of charm offered by either it feels as though there are two to aggravate or annoy. I strongly suspect that this opening reel is the fulcrum upon which a lot of opinion is going to pivot, and if an audience doesn’t buy into the style and pitch of proceedings by that point they may well end up lost. Perhaps it says something in itself that I can’t actually pinpoint the moment at which I swung toward the positive (full disclosure of this reviewer’s Gosling man crush is a matter of public record), but once it clicked I found myself generally enthralled and consistently emotionally involved in a way that I haven’t experienced since Amelie.
There’s a good case to be made that at least twenty minutes could be excised from the two-hours-plus-change running time, mainly from a lagging half hour around the middle where it feels Chazelle may have lost focus and the movie feels like it is having a mild crisis of identity. Fortunately there is enough emotionally involving material either side of that gap to permit forgiveness from those who’ve accepted the steep buy-in of the opening act.
Of Gosling and Stone there is little to say beyond the praise already heaped by an ebullient press, except that perhaps the awards focus on the latter feels slightly unfair on Gosling who is at least the equal of Stone and, if anything, displays greater convincing emotional range on his journey from dreamer to emotional cynic.
Such reservations aside, Chazelle builds on the foundations of an emotional juggling act first established in Whiplash to expose his audience to the proverbial rollercoaster across a pretty broad gamut. For scene after scene La La Land brazenly walks a tightrope between infuriating naïveté and sophisticated connection, which balancing act says more about the human condition than any number of over-wrought dramas within recent memory combined. Like Whiplash, La La Land works toward a bold, mis-directional climax that somehow balances heart-rending despair with an almost euphoric affirmation of love and life. The most remarkable hallmark of Chazelle’s directorial style is his willingness to bring his movies to a conclusion on a facial expression with the kind of confidence normally associated with multi-million dollar effects sequences. It’s that understanding of how human emotion works, that leverage of pathos that makes Chazelle’s case as one of the most satisfying directors working in Hollywood today, and with just 31 years on the clock the sky is very much his limit.
La La Land will not be everyone’s cup of tea, and to imagine so would be ridiculous, but in a world swamped with superhero movies it is refreshing to find something both so well crafted and yet willing to wear its heart on its big, goofy sleeve.
After the success of the Soviet Union in launching both the first artificial satellite, Sputnik, and the first human in space, Yuri Gagarin, the United States found themselves on the back foot in the space race, and there was a lot of pressure on NASA to get the first American into space, and then head for the moon. This was a mighty set of engineering problems, and, in those early days NASA relied much less on machinery and more on brain power to do their calculations. These calculations were performed and checked by computers, sure, but then “computer” meant “person”, and usually “black woman person”.
It is the story of one of these computers, Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), that forms the central story of Hidden Figures, the second feature from St. Vincent director Theodore Melfi, as she attempts to assert herself at NASA, and show the contribution she can make to getting an American astronaut into space and, crucially, safely back down again. Concurrent with this is Dorothy Vaughan’s (Octavia Spencer) struggle to get the appropriate title and pay for the supervisor’s job that she is already doing, without recognition, and Mary Jackson’s (Janelle Monae) legal battle to be allowed to study engineering classes, Virginia’s stone age laws denying her access because the classes take place in a segregated school.
After an opening scene when the three women are questioned at the side of the road by a police officer (a very tense scene, but one whose outcome puts you in no doubt about the tone the film will take going forward), the trio arrive at NASA, but are quickly split up, as Katherine moves to Al Harrison’s (Kevin Costner) flight dynamics team, Mary works on spacecraft engineering, and Dorothy makes her battle for fair pay, while anticipating the changes that will come when the hulking IBM mainframe arrives. There’s a smattering of scenes in the women’s home lives, providing some welcome flesh on their characters, but the bulk of the action is, as it ought to be, on their professional struggles and successes.
While they get regrettably few scenes together, the central trio of women are always engaging, and all three give spirited and winning performances of entertaining and likeable characters. Sadly, things are very different for the more peripheral characters. Jim Parsons, whose engineer Paul Stafford could be summed up entirely as “grumpy, racist, misogynist prat, for reasons”, and Kirsten Dunst’s condescending manager Vivian Mitchell, fare particularly badly. They are thinly sketched stereotypes. There’s an irony there, in that such one-note caricatures are the only roles that many black actors were able to get for many, many years, and while it may be tempting to think “payback!”, two wrongs don’t make a right, and really, it’s just bad writing, and to the detriment of the film. Costner gets the best deal of these lesser characters, and he lends his distracted and stressed character some real warmth and gravitas.
Hidden Figures is very, very populist. Now, there’s an argument to be made that an uplifting, populist approach is the right one to take to get this little-known story out to a wider audience, and to help illuminate people on the contribution of these black women to the success of one of their nation’s proudest successes, particularly when the face of that success has been so resolutely white and male for 50 years. And to that end it’s quite successful. But Hidden Figures feels so very safe, both in content and delivery. Most of the edges have been sanded off, and while the film does portray some of the difficulties the characters faced, both because of their gender and the colour of their skin, it lacks the sense of threat and danger that went hand in hand with that time and place, and fails to ask the more difficult questions.
Unfortunately, too, there is one scene, a centrepiece of the trailers, in which Kevin Costner’s Al Harrison knocks down a “Coloureds Bathroom” sign, declaring that “at NASA we all pee the same colour”, that, while, satisfying in context, is contrived (i.e. totally didnae happen), and extremely open to being read as “white man ends racism”. In the film, though, it does at least serve as an audience-satisfying, cheerleading, high point, and brings to an end the tonally awkward montages of Katherine’s (also fabricated) cross-campus trips to the bathroom, and their accompaniment by Pharrell Williams’s “Runnin'”.
All of that said, Hidden Figures is a very enjoyable, colourful and interesting look into a little-known piece of 20th century US history, and it’s definitely worth watching, particularly for the performances of Monae, Spencer and Henson, and it is likely to leave you emotionally, if not intellectually, satisfied.
Being Scotsmen of a certain age, as you’d expect we’ve, or at least I’ve, got a certain affinity with 1996’s Trainspotting, hitting a sweet spot of being both part of the Cool Britannia scene and a riposte to is, as the heroes of the piece and their choice of recreational activities are certainly not the Best of British. Narratively, there’s not a huge amount to work though in the original, but Danny Boyle did provide some of the most striking visuals of the age and, crucially, some of the most vibrant characters committed to celluloid.
So, twenty years on, I suppose there’s some trepidation about returning to the scene of the crime. This film adapts some left-over parts of Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting book along with some loose direction from his ultimately forgettable follow-up, Porno, but is very much its own beast.
Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor) returns to Edinburgh after absconding to Amsterdam with the gang’s drug deal profits, as his largely successful attempt at going straight – married with a job in the glamorous world of accountancy – hits the skids when his wife asks for divorce and he see the downsizing axe hanging over his position. The bulk of the film, them, will be how his former friends respond to his return.
Artful dodger Simon “Sick Boy” Williamson (Jonny Lee Miller), now acting as a pimp cum blackmailer with Veronika (Anjela Nedyalkova) while running an inherited slum of a pub in Leith seems to welcome him back, after an initial bit of aggression, but he may be playing a longer game. Good natured, but still addicted Spud (Ewen Bremner) may have received his share of the cash, but is still upset that he would leave his friends so casually and, beside, what would you expect a junkie to do with four grand except shoot in into their veins?
The other keenly affected party is all-round violent psycho nutbag Begbie (Robert Carlyle), unsurprisingly serving a stretch at Her Majesty’s Pleasure for some laundry list of crime, but who goes on the lam after engineering a trip to hospital. He returns home to find a son who has no inclination at all to follow in his father’s thieving, violent footsteps, but something like that’s not going to stop him attempting to drag him down that path regardless.
And so it goes, with another scam Sick Boy attempts to run based on conning the Government into giving him a regeneration loan for his pub to turn it into a brothel acting as a fulcrum for all of these element to smash together in, if we’re honest, predictable enough fashion, but true to its pedigree the narrative is the minimum acceptable framing device to start hanging the characters from, which is a substantially better use of the film’s time. It’s arguably more of an extended denouement to the first film than its own story, but it’s still strong enough to support the weight of these characters, and that’s what we’re here to see.
It’s just a joy to revisit these characters, their perspectives and humour, and their struggles after all this time, and while we’ll have to wait for time to tell if it’s as iconic a character piece as the original – my money’s on “No”, it’s still an insanely enjoyable film that’s full of the vibrancy, humour and downright cleverness that made the the 1996 outing so great.
Perhaps most rewardingly in the characterisation department, while all the promo material is about the charm of Renton, the guile of Sick Boy, or the fury of Begbie, the real hero of this film turns out to be Spud, who grows from being a punchline to a fully fleshed out character over the course of the piece. He’s even part of briefly making Begbie relatable, but don’t worry, that doesn’t last long.
I shan’t labour the point. This is a hugely enjoyable film and if I’m not talking about it in our films of the year podcast in December we’ll have had a helluva year. I have, perhaps, a slight concern that the funniest scenes may not play so well outside of central Scotland, but for what it’s worth the musical sequence in Trainspotting 2 is substantially funnier than anything in La La Land. Go see it if you haven’t.
Wherein Mel Gibson returns to the Hollywood prime time for his first directorial duties in a decade. It is the story of one Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield), a pacifist who nonetheless enlisted for medic duty with the US Marines during World War 2, and who faced all manner of distrust and abuse both physical and mental from among the ranks due to his remarkable refusal to lay hands on any form of weapon. Pilloried as a liability to his unit, Doss nonetheless stuck to his convictions through military trial and ultimately won his right to serve sans shooter, his fellow marines indignantly assuming their problem would be solved within moments of their first assault on Okinawa and the titular headland.
Somehow defying both astronomical odds and, it would seem, some fundamental laws of physics, Doss performed perhaps the closest thing mankind has witnessed to a genuine miracle during that assault; amidst the hail of small arms and machine gun fire from the Japanese and the relentless blanket shelling of his own navy, old Des rescued something in the order of 70 wounded colleagues, mostly single-handedly, and many after his unit had fallen back from the ridge presuming that all was lost.
Regardless of your opinion on Doss’ attribution of his survival to his Seventh Day Adventist religious convictions it is a remarkable tale, and one which feels as though it ought to have been celebrated somewhat more substantially; this is the first time Doss’ exploits have been explored in the cinematic medium, and given how overtly crowd-pleasing an opportunity it presents it’s baffling that we haven’t been treated to an adaptation until now. For that very same reason it is an eminently sensible choice for Gibson with which to resurrect his Hollywood profile.
Previous directorial outings for Gibson have established that he is very much a meat and potatoes man, but that he does make a very tasty corned beef hash out of those simple ingredients, and given his tentative return to the limelight it is no surprise to find Gibson taking few risks with the material. Hacksaw Ridge is a movie of two halves, neither of which offers much new in and of itself.
If I may be so bold as to begin with the latter half, what we are treated to for the last hour of the movie is a visceral portrayal of the events on Okinawa in which Doss plied his trade so effectively. So many men on both sides went into, and were spat out of the meat grinder, and Gibson takes gruesome pride in attempting to one-up Saving Private Ryan in his portrayal of the harsh realities of war. As effective as it is, this portrayal is perhaps necessarily bereft of much sophistication, and with almost 20 years between this and Spielberg’s landmark Hacksaw Ridge perhaps falls foul of a level of human destruction fatigue; I feel like once you’ve seen one soldier’s face shot off by machine gun fire you’ve seen them all. This is unfortunate, as had Hacksaw Ridge come along first it would undoubtedly have had much more impact.
The first half deals mainly in sentimental nonsense, though no more so in some respects than Saving Private Ryan, and almost grudgingly touches on Desmond’s childhood before skipping swiftly on to his hellish time at boot camp. This is a missed opportunity in the extreme, as I found myself far more interested in Doss’ relationship with his abusive father (Hugo Weaving) than in any number of scenes of his fellow recruits kicking the crap out of him for his moral convictions. Gibson expends an awful lot of time and energy here reinforcing the message that Doss was a pacifist rather than investigating the far more interesting topic of why he was one. It’s especially galling as Gibson does tease two key moments that informed the adult Doss; an incident where he almost accidentally killed his brother with a brick to the head, and another where his father’s abuse towards his mother became so fierce that Desmond pulled a gun on him. Baffling that such a carrot be so tantalisingly dangled and then sharply withdrawn in favour of “because I loves me the baby Jesus.”
There are certain egregious individual moments that threaten to derail Hacksaw Ridge‘s credibility, most of them involving Vince Vaughan who clearly watched R Lee Ermey in Full Metal Jacket and thought “what that performance needed more of was Vince Vaughan™!” One moment in particular where he is dragged wounded by Doss, grease gun blazing as Japanese soldiers demonstrate an apparent inability to hit a barn door, is woefully misjudged and almost laugh out loud funny, and whether or not it has ever happened outside of a Call Of Duty escort mission it ought never to have been included.
Still, Hacksaw Ridge just about hangs together as a piece of entertainment, provided you’re happy to imbibe the Hallmark Channel meets Hamburger Hill aesthetic. It’s certainly not sophisticated, but what Gibson lacks in nuance he almost makes up by sheer force of will, and maybe that’s appropriate given the parallel with our hero. For the most part the cast are fine, with Garfield in particular exuding an undeniably endearing naïveté that works well in the context of the role, though Hugo Weaving does often come across as though he’s dropped in from the community theatre and Vince Vaughan is…yeahhhhhhh.
Whatever you’ve imagined Hacksaw Ridge to be you’re probably correct, so if that’s your bag it’s fine.
In its most reduced state, Moonlight is simply a love story, a tale of how circumstance and events stop someone from being with the person that they love. Timeless. It’s what this film shares with Brokeback Mountain, and such comparisons are not always flippant. At heart they’re love stories, and the fact that both people share the same chromosomal makeup is irrelevant. Or should be. The idea that a man loving a man is somehow any different from a man loving a woman, or a woman loving a man, is intellectually untenable, but in our still painfully primitive society it’s not that simple. And while Brokeback Mountain had restrictive dressing, Moonlight‘s romance has chains and weights.
Split into three parts, the film begins with a young boy called Chiron, only child of a single mother in a poor, mostly black, neighbourhood of Miami, being chased by bullies. Hiding in a derelict apartment, the shy and uncommunicative boy is found by drug dealer Blue (Mahershala Ali), who shows him some attention and warmth, two things sorely lacking from his life, and certainly not things much provided by his crack addict mother (Naomie Harris). Blue’s girlfriend Teresa (Janelle Monae) also become something of a surrogate mother to him, and she in particular shows him the understanding that he needs as he begins to realise that he is in some way different to his peers.
In the second part, an adolescent Chiron (Ashton Sanders) is aware of his sexuality, but tries to suppress it, and to suppress anything that would make him seem different. To make him stand out. To be a target. But it is not enough, and he is still bullied, but in this world of near-adults, where difference, and especially vulnerability, are not survival traits, the consequences are much more severe. After his first sexual encounter, Chiron suffers a betrayal and more torment, the result of which is a violent outburst that will bring this period of his life to an end.
The third and final section sees the now adult Chiron (played in this portion by Trevante Rhodes) pretending to be happy as a drug dealer, putting on a hard, violent persona demanded of him by his surroundings and to obscure the person he is inside.
Alex Hibbert as Chiron’s youngest incarnation is deeply sympathetic, and the performance is remarkably assured and naturalistic for one so young. His section is also the one I would have liked to have seen explored some more, particularly when the bullied youngster begins to ask questions about his awakening sexual preferences, and what it says about us as a society that thinks it can both evaluate that from something like a person’s walk, and judge and punish a child.
Mahershala Ali gives good support as Blue (at least, after the first 10 minutes where pretty much all dialogue is a mumble), a drug dealer with a tender side, and while it skates pretty close to being the crack dealer version of the stereotypical ‘hooker with a heart of gold’, it’s a much more rounded character than normally accompanies such a job.
Naomie Harris’s character does, though, come across as a cliche, though I must add the caveat that she herself thought that and was reluctant to take the part, but was persuaded by the director as the character was largely based in the facts of the director and writer’s own experiences. And she performs her role fiercely.
Even with all of those praiseworthy attributes, though, I found that Moonlight didn’t do much for me. Or at least nothing like as much as I hoped for or expected.
Now, you may say that perhaps, because I am neither black nor gay, that it may just be that Moonlight lacks relevance for me, but that is, of course, arrant nonsense, because I am a human being, with empathy and understanding, and moreover successful storytelling transcends deficiency in experience. The fact is that Moonlight simply didn’t win me over in anything like the same way it seems to have done most critics. I find that I’m somewhat torn by this film. It has a promising beginning, and Chiron’s journey certainly engenders sympathy, but I just don’t find it that special. Part of me wonders if I’m missing something, a thought given fuel by so much positive reception elsewhere. But part of me wonders if I am not so blown away by Moonlight because it’s like preaching to the choir: I already know there is nothing abnormal about homosexuality, and I believe that if you think it is something to be scared of, or punished, or suppressed, then you are a bad person, and should probably come to harm.
But what chance that people who feel that way would ever even watch a film like Moonlight? But mostly I wonder how much of the response of others is simply an availability heuristic. There are very few films as it is about young male homosexuality, and high profile films about young male homosexuality in poor, black, hyper-masculine, societies are rarer than hen’s teeth, and for that alone Moonlight should be lauded. Moonlight is, sadly, relevant and necessary. That it is a well-produced, well-acted and engaging drama on that topic is icing on the cake, and I certainly recommend watching it. Just take the hype with a pinch of salt.
By this point, I’d like to think that most people have come to the same conclusion regarding the output of M. Night Shyamalan as I have, which is to say, leave them well alone. Sixth Sense may have its fans, and Unbreakable‘s adequate, but the downslide through Signs, The Village, The Lady in the Water to the unintentionally hilarious, dreadful The Happening is really quite the cliff edge to plummet over.
Yet still, unbelievably, he’s still making films, although the flop of After Earth has seen him retreat into smaller budget, more quick and dirty affairs such as 2015’s found footage horror The Visit, which I understandably have avoided for all the obvious reasons. Yet, enough people had been saying that Split was a return to form that it suckered me into ponying up for a ticket, and, well, to be fair there’s some truth to that, but allow me to be quite clear from the outset that this is best viewed as a comedy than the psychological horror it’s billed as.
Because it’s really, really, really stupid.
Kevin Wendell Crumb (James McAvoy) is a complicated man, and no-one understands him but his woman, or at least therapist, Dr. Karen Fletcher (Betty Buckley). It turns out that Kev has dissociative identity disorder, or multiple personality disorder as its still more commonly known, with the region of twenty odd personalities (most of which we’re thankfully spared from) being contained in Kevin’s noggin. The stable, dominant one seems to be Barry, who’s managing to hold a relatively normal life together by suppressing some of the more unsavoury characters in there with him.
Of course, that’s hardly going to hold for a film of this nature, so soon Dennis is given sway, who likes watching young girls dance naked, which bodes poorly for the three teenagers he’s just kidnapped – Claire (Haley Lu Richardson), Marcia (Jessica Sula) and black sheep of the group and our main focus in the film, Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy).
There’s two essential threads running through this film, as Barry tries to flag to Dr. Fletcher that something’s going on while Dennis tries to bluff his way past her concerns while pretending to be Barry, and Casey tries to get some of Kevin’s other personalities to release her, or at least get some useful information on escaping from them. Personalities such a Hedwig, supposedly a nine year old boy, or Patricia, who’s making ominous predictions about the coming of “The Beast”.
And so it goes, with talk of this Beast, an as yet uncovered superhuman personality, leading us to believe that some patented twist will be coming to write us out this narrative hole, before, and I suppose I should sound the spoiler warning klaxon here, it turns out the twist was that this is played entirely straight. Presumably no dumber idea was achievable, and before long McAvoy’s bouncing around at ludicrous speed and ripping the hearts from our corralled teens, with Casey making a break for it and being hunted through the facility they’re held in.
Now, I hope most of you are thinking that this sounds dreadful, because that is very much what I’m trying to convey here. It’s not completely unenjoyable, but more in The Happening sense than The Sixth Sense. McAvoy chews the scenery with a commendably unhinged abandon, which makes much of this an amusingly hamtacular performance if you’re in the mood to ironically hate-watch something, but please don’t make the mistake of taking any part of this remotely seriously or you’re in for a trip to Disappointment City.
Actually, I take that back. Hate-watch is trifle strong for this, and let’s be fair, despite the idiocy of the central premise, this is well paced and, given the mess films of this ilk can get into, relatively straightforward narrative. Compare and contrast with the garbage fire of 2003’s Identity, if you want a real exemplar of excrement. In comparison, Split is far too goofy to hate, but nowhere near goofy enough for me to recommend this to anyone excpet the most morbidly curious.
Chillingly, it also points at the possibility of an M. Night Shyamalan Cinematic Universe, which is probably about what the world deserves at the minute. You have no chance to survive. Make your time.
1950s Pittsburgh. Bin man Troy Maxson (Denzel Washington) finishes work on Friday afternoon, collects his pay, and then holds court in his back garden, regaling his friend Bono (Stephen Henderson) and his wife Rose (Viola Davis) with a mixture of true, augmented, and outright tall tales, and some homespun philosophy. Washington pounds away, staggering amounts of dialogue flowing from his mouth like music.
Troy is a man of contradictions, disappointments, hardships, resentment and unfulfilled desires. Subjected to physical and emotional abuse in childhood, and racism throughout his life, his great dream to become a professional baseball player never came to fruition. While he has suffered many things, as well as inflicting some hurt, and has been to prison, it is this one thing, this unfulfilled potential that seems to colour so much of his personality and interaction, and why he seems to resent the potential success of his youngest son Cory (Jovan Adepo), who has aroused the interest of recruiters for his talents in American football. It is also at least partially the reason for his infidelity to his wife, but Troy is so much more than that, and in less adept hands, and with worse writing, Troy would be a much lesser character. There is so much nuance in him, and Washington brings it all to the screen: the pain, the weight of responsibility, the feeling of injustice, the ego, the trauma, the competing desires.
Denzel Washington is possibly my favourite currently working actor. While I’ve seen him in bad films, I don’t think I can recall ever seeing him give a bad performance, and he is one of those rare talents capable of lifting the quality of the work he is in, however unlikely it may seem, simply by his sheer presence. And when he is given good quality material, as here, he is untouchable. Troy Maxson isn’t a particularly good or likeable man, but, thanks to a combination of excellent writing and superb acting, he is a fascinating, complex, contradictory, interesting and, especially, believable man. He feels like a person, not just a character. Just as well, as Troy is given the lion’s share, and most of the other animals’ share too, of screen time and dialogue. When others do get a look-in, though, they all bring a very high standard of work, with Viola Davis, Stephen Henderson, Jovan Adepo and Mykelti Williamson performing extremely well.
The direction lets things down a little, though, and on occasion seems kind of amateur, particularly some very awkward shots of chairs and a fallen flower. Having somehow paid no attention to the opening credits, and avoided the information on all other channels, I awaited the end credits to see if this had been the work of a debutant director. Greatly surprised was I, then, to see Denzel Washington’s name appear, and while he’s not hugely experienced at the helm, this ain’t his first rodeo. But then another piece of information floated in, and much of the film made sense. Something had been bothering me about the style of the rest of the film, but so captivated was I by ol’ Denzel that I wasn’t concentrating on it, but when I realised that the film was based on a play (in which much of the cast also starred on Broadway), and then it all clicked, because the film feels REALLY stagey, and I think that most of my directorial quibbles probably stem from the difficulty of translating this from stage to screen. Fortunately that’s really more of an aside, and nearly inconsequential to the enjoyment of the film.
While I’d have liked to have seen more of Troy’s son Cory (the trailer would lead you to believe that the father and son relationship is a more substantial part of the film, and I rather wish it was), and it really could do with a good 75% fewer baseball metaphors (that’s really not hyperbole). Minor, minor things, though. If there is one fault I could pick with this it is that after a scene in which Troy reveals a truth to Rose, and Viola Davis delivers an astonishing, heartbreaking monologue, the film begins to lose power, and diminishes afterwards. But Fences is fantastic, and Washington’s towering performance is reason enough to see it, let alone the nuanced, sympathetic and passionate portrayal of Rose by Viola Davis. Yes, it may be the Denzel Washington show, but I can’t see how that’s ever not a good thing. And everything else is a spectacular bonus.
Thanks to everyone who has got in touch with us on this, or said kind words about the show – it’s all very much appreciated.
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