For those last minute stragglers, I won't have the luxury of exercising my full review muscles (consider my La La Land piece a holiday indulgence), but I'll deposit my abbreviated thoughts here throughout the month.
My first screening of the new year was Denzel Washington's realization of the long dormant Fences adaptation, scripted by its original playwright August Wilson some time before his 2005 death. The screenplay itself doesn't take much advantage of the opportunity for other forms of exposition besides dialogue, but Washington's direction is sturdy, unobtrusive, and has a more cinematic eye.
Besides, the film is really a performance showcase above all else, and Denzel is at the centre of it. His is powerhouse potboiler of lifelong regret and resentment. Viola Davis lands multiple moments of enormous dramatic impact in a turn that seems destined to deliver her 'make-up' Oscar (never forget The Help). The rest of the tight-knit ensemble work wonders. Whether or not you believe the whole thing feels more like theatre than cinema, it'd be hard to argue that these actors aren't compelling to watch.
As we've come to expect from a master of Scorsese's status, it's a thoroughly well produced endeavor, with special mention to Rodrigo Prieto's painterly cinematography and authentic dressing by his go-to designer Dante Ferretti. It's a shame that it's late release and lack of guild attention has sucked all the oxygen out of its campaign.
If any premise of a plot exists, it's planted and swept out of the way early when Dorothea beseeches Abbie and Julie to help make Jamie the man he needs to be in an ever-changing world; A task they approach with trepidation but credence. That's really just an excuse for Mills to explore as many different dynamics within this retro modern family as possible. All five principals are doing beautifully complex, specific character work here that truly meshes, flavoured with naturalistic humour throughout. Their omission from the SAG ballot for Best Ensemble is criminal.
Mills also invites us into his recollection of a briefly distinct and just as quickly forgotten chapter of American history: One that straddles the gap between cultural/sexual revolutions of the seventies but prior to the eighties' technological explosion, shaped by Mills' careful curation of images, poetry, literature and punk music.