Review

  • "The New Yorker" says that this based-on-a-stage-play movie itself is somewhat stagy. It's far more than that. It begins on a fast treadmill with Denzel Washington talking non-stop for about the first 20 minutes; others can barely get a word in edgewise. I actually put my hands over my ears to mute somewhat the annoying patter. So much for personal reaction. As a critic I think the dialogue problem is twofold: (1) The text itself is stilted--typical Broadway drama trying to sound like the way blacks talk (e.g., like I hear them in the YMCA locker room), but it has no rhythm, no lilt, no naturalness--there's a "Broadway formality" about it; (2) neither Denzel Washington nor Viola Davis sound at all natural with the text--no rhythm, no style, stiff--they sound like they're reciting a text. In fact, they both played in the 2010 Broadway production--they still sound like they're on stage instead of before a movie camera.

    Not only is the dialogue stagy, the camera work and direction (Washington is the director too) are extremely stagy. I was constantly conscious that I was sitting there watching a movie rather than getting lost in the story itself; I could practically hear the director saying, "Move here. Get that clever shot from the ceiling there. Etc." It felt mechanical and poorly edited, without the flow and grace of a MOVING picture.

    The problem with this film is Denzel Washington himself. According to Lauren Chval of Redeye (whose article was printed not once but twice in the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle), author August Wilson insisted that a black man direct because he could bring "cultural literacy" to the film. Fair enough; the problem is that Washington did a lousy job of it. Washington also worked with Wilson on adapting the script to the film; he did a lousy job of that too. Based on this movie, Washington should stick to acting because here he is in sore need of direction as an actor, of a good script adapter, and of a good director who knows how to take a camera and turn a stage play into a MOVING picture.

    For the first 30 minutes, Washington does practically all the talking, non-stop, as if on a verbal treadmill. I began saying to myself, "Will you shut up? Shut Up! SHUT UP!!!!" In all honesty, I walked out after the first half-hour. I know how the story develops; I just refused to endure the torture of getting there.