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Fences by Marcelo Zarvos (Review)

posted Dec 16, 2016, 4:30 PM by Kaya Savas

When actor’s direct we get to see a different take on filmmaking versus from someone who traditionally comes from a directing background. You have someone like Mel Gibson who is definitely someone focused on emotions through imagery. Then you have someone like Denzel Washington whose occasional times in the director’s chair has yielded performance-focused stories. His three features all have yielded different composers as well from Mychael Danna on Antwone Fisher, Peter Golub & James Newton Howard on The Great Debaters and now Marcelo Zarvos with Fences. So, it’s obvious Washington is not a one-composer director, he isn’t interested in building a lasting collaboration with a composer the way say Mel Gibson did with James Horner. Thankfully Marcelo has the talent and versatility to navigate a landscape with a director who puts acting before anything else, and the result is a somber unobtrusive score that sits softly in the background.

Marcelo Zarvos is really great at subtle scores, he can make a little go a long way. His thematic writing has always resonated very deep such as in The Door In The Floor and Hollywoodland. For Fences, Marcelo was essentially an outsider coming in to add just a touch of life to this story. The screenplay was written by the play’s original author, August Wilson. And stars Denzel Washington and Viola Davis had mastered these roles by performing the play 114 times during its Broadway revival back in 2010 when it ran for 13 weeks. So essentially this adaptation almost came ready to go, and it was up to Denzel Washington to capture it in film form. Zarvos’ score won’t turn heads, it won’t grab you strongly, but it does add a layer of emotional resonance with its simple yet effective approach. The score feels very reserved and restrained, almost like bottled up emotions. It works well to create a backdrop for the characters and to create a specific mood and tone. All the score is really doing is matching the tone of the scenes. Since this is indeed a film meant to be carried by the acting, there isn’t much need for a score to flesh out the characters too deeply. These actors deliver the lines with power and force, never really leaving the audience to wonder what their inner emotional state is. So with that being the case, the score does just what it needs to do. Or does what it can do with the space that is given, depending on your perspective.

Fences is a small and reserved scoring attempt from Marcelo Zarvos who uses some thematic structure and atmospheric moods to match the tone of the film. The score is extremely interesting because this film is an actor’s film. This film is based on a play, the screenplay is written by the original playwright, the actors in the film have performed the play 114 times already and are playing the same roles, and it’s directed by the lead actor who also starred in the play. I’m surprised there’s as much score as there is here, but thankfully Zarvos relies on his nuanced emotional writing to find a way for the music to function. The score won’t wow you, but it paints some interesting moods worth exploring.