A day at Curzon Mayfair is normally a cause for celebration. But with two Oscar nominated films lined up the occasion felt more like a special birthday or Christmas.
First up, the long awaited big-screen adaptation of August Wilson’s play Fences. It has been close to 30 years since Paramount bought the movie rights to Wilson’s domestic drama play, which takes an honest look at the black experience in 1950’s Pittsburgh.
Denzel Washington, director and the driving force behind the film’s eventual production, stars as Troy Maxson, an ageing garbage man whose dreams of playing Major League Baseball were denied because of his race.
Troy works hard to support his dedicated wife, Rose (Viola Davis), and youngest son, Corey (Jovan Adepo), before returning home to shoot the breeze and drink in the backyard with his colleague Jim (Stephen Henderson).
It soon becomes apparent that Troy’s life is not as stable and principled as it appears on the surface. His festering – and justified – bitterness at his unfulfilled sporting career leads him to actively undermine and deny Corey’s college football opportunities, despite Rose’s pleas that ‘times have changed’.
Troy’s manhood is undermined by the knowledge that his house has been paid for by the compensation given to his brother for an injury suffered in the Second World War. Meanwhile, his marriage is silently failing and his solution is to seek solace in the arms of another lady.
Fences is littered with metaphors – as you would expect from an adapted play – but many of them feel uncomfortably overstated. The timely lit crucifix on the bedroom wall, the old baseball-on-a-string in the backyard and – of course – the fence. Worst of all is the painfully transparent and prolonged final scene which leaves the viewer bewildered and frustrated.
Fences’ metaphors extend to its use of claustrophobic settings (we rarely see Troy outside of his home, backyard or work), reflecting Troy’s personal stagnation and – by design – leaving the film static.
Again, it is delivery rather than concept that dulls the film.
Beyond Washington’s typically authoritative presence and Davis’ magnificently heart-wrenching delivery, there is not enough of substance to adequately fill the 139 minute runtime, especially with a stripped back style and minimalised soundtrack.
Expect Xavier Dolan’s upcoming adaptation of It’s Only The End Of The World to show how a play can be stylised for the big-screen.
After an hour of reflection in the lobby (I watched the 50 Shades Darker trailer countless times on the Curzon television and remain convinced it’s a ghost story), I took my seat in screen one for a viewing of Moonlight.
Director Barry Jenkins’ film takes a City Of God (2002) structure, documenting three stages of a young man’s life growing up in a drug infested Miami neighbourhood.
The story begins with Chiron – nicknamed ‘Little’ – as an introverted adolescent, neglected by his addiction afflicted mother (Naomie Harris) and shunned by his classmates for being ‘weird’.
He forms an unlikely friendship with local drug dealer, Juan (Mahershala Ali), who feeds, shelters and, in one particularly moving scene, teaches him how to swim – creating a lasting affinity with the ocean.
Chiron also finds refuge in the company of an understanding classmate named Kevin. Their relationship is complex and confusing but deeply liberating.
Moonlight’s soul-piercing score and dazzlingly poetic cinematography underpin this powerful and memorable search for identity. Apart from the clichéd high school drama in the second act, it is hard not to get swept away by the film’s perfect meld of stunning aesthetics and terrific performances.
I left the Curzon Mayfair feeling romanced by my cinema experience.
Moonlight had vanquished my disappointing start to the day, leaving an imprint of enduring images and Nicholas Britell’s magnificent score reverberating through my head.
Now it is your turn. Get off the fence, stop by your local cinema and fall in love with one of the best films of this year. As for Fences, stay away.
Fences – 3/5
Dir: Denzel Washington
Scr: August Wilson
Cast: Denzel Washington, Viola Davis, Stephen Henderson, Jovan Adepo, Russell Hornsby
DOP: Charlotte Bruus Christensen
Music: Marcelo Zarvos
Runtime: 2hr 19
Moonlight – 4/5
Dir: Barry Jenkins
Scr: Barry Jenkins
Cast: Mahershala Ali, Shariff Earp, Duan Sanderson, Alex R Hibbert, Janelle Monae, Naomie Harris, Jaden Piner, Ashton Sanders, Edson Jean, Patrick Decile, Jharrel Jerome, Trevante Rhodes, Stephen Bron, Andre Holland
DOP: James Laxton
Music: Nicholas Britell
Runtime: 1hr 51