Fences is set in 1957 and follows Troy Maxson (Denzel Washington), a garbage collector struggling to connect with his wife (Viola Davis), sons (Russell Hornsby, Jovan Adepo), and brother (Mykelti Williamson). The film is based on the Tony Award-winning play of the same name by famed playwright August Wilson. The film, like the play, examines many weighty themes, primarily the African-American experience as it were during the Civil Rights era. This piece is one of Wilson’s most recognizable and earned him the Pulitzer Prize in 1987.
Academy Award winner and living legend Denzel Washington delivers an incredibly profound performance here. He wears several hats as he also directed and produced the film. As Troy Maxson, he is gruff, crass and sometimes hard to like or sympathize with. On the other hand, he is humorous and a talented story teller-a person whose personality fills up the whole room. As the film progresses it becomes apparent that he is merely a product of the environment that he was raised in. I have always found Troy to be a tragic character who is undeniably shaped by lack of opportunity due to the color of his skin.
Washington plays this character with such ease and familiarity, which is unsurprising since he also starred as Troy in the Broadway production in 2010. It is worth noting that the stage version collected some serious hardware, winning Tony awards for: Best Actor (Washington), Best Actress (Davis) and Best Revival of a Play.
The onscreen chemistry between Washington and Viola Davis (Suicide Squad, The Help) who plays loving wife Rose is nearly tangible. Their union is central to the story and everything that they face together is understood and felt by the audience. Viola Davis is incredible in this role. It is highly fitting that she and Washington are reprising their roles because they have to be two of the most consistent performers in Hollywood; they always deliver above and beyond.
As Rose, Davis is warm, but also firm and serves as a moral agent in Fences. It is hard not to feel some level of sadness when she delivers her “18 years” speech. A powerful performance indeed.
In fact the entire cast is equally wonderful and a joy to watch. As mentally disabled brother Gabe, Mykelti Williamson (Forrest Gump, Designated Survivor), is a bright spot and a character you can’t help but take a liking to. His most important moment comes at the very end of the film and I must say that I prefer the lighthearted ending of the film to what I’d always envisioned as somber in reading the play.
Stage veteran Stephen McKinley Henderson stars as loyal friend and co-worker Jim Bono and he brought out a lot of the humor during the scenes where his friend spins tall tales and lies. Another moral agent, but also a foil for his buddy Troy in many ways, I liked how Henderson brought the character to life.
Troy’s sons Lyons and Corey are played by Russell Hornsby and Jovan Adepo respectively and both offer a compelling look at what many Black men faced then and even now. For Hornsby’s (Grimm, Lincoln Heights) character, work is optional and he would rather be a cavalier musician than a man who takes responsibility. This is no doubt shaped by his time without a father figure. Adepo’s (The Leftovers) young Corey is trying to find his place in the world a part from his father which is hard to do when he cannot reconcile with Troy’s poor actions. I was impressed by how well both men held their own when facing off against Washington’s formidable Troy.
Fences is a simply shot film, meaning most of the action is relegated to one place: the Maxson’s yard. I did not mind this because it drew me in even closer to the actors and their dialogue. This is also consistent with how Mr. Wilson crafted the play and it is a breakaway from other popular movies at the moment.
Overall, Fences is a wonderful watch; there is humor, heartbreak and redemption all important elements of any good story.
Fences is scripted by August Wilson and directed by Denzel Washington. It stars Denzel Washington, Viola Davis, Mykelti Williamson, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Russell Hornsby, Jovan Adepo and Saniyya Sidney. It is currently in theaters and I recommend you check it out!