Movie Review: ‘Fences’
Denzel Washington and Viola Davis reprise their roles from the 2010 Broadway revival of August Wilson’s play Fences with Washington in the director’s chair adapting it to the big screen. Both performances won the actors Tony awards, and they might be adding an Oscar their mantels next year. Both actors give powerhouse performances on screen, and handle the transition from stage to screen flawlessly.
Wilson wrote the play in 1983 as part of his ten-part Pittsburgh Cycle. Fences along with the other Pittsburgh plays explored race relations, and the evolving African-American experience in the latter half of the 20th century. The play went onto win the 1987 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, along with the Tony Award for Best Play.
Fences opens with Troy (Washington), a garbage collector, walking home to his wife Rose (Viola Davis) and son Cory (Jovan Adepo). Troy was once a great baseball player in his younger days after spending time in prison for an accidental murder he committed during a robbery. After getting out of prison and meeting Rose, Troy tried to break into the major leagues, but failed due to the race barrier that had not yet broken yet in professional sports. He now reminisces about his glory days with his pal and coworker Bono (a terrific Stephen Henderson) in his backyard sipping gin after a hard day’s work. His son Cory is up for a potential college football scholarship, which Rose wants Troy to give his approval for. Having been in the shadow of her husband for years the faithful Rose grows exhausted of dealing with his iron fisted rule of the household.
Washington wisely knows to keep the material as raw as it was on stage, and not to have the filmmaking upstage it. He knows that Wilson’s almost Shakespearean dialogue is at the emotional core of the material. What he does add on screen is both humor and charm to the dark character of Troy. Audiences have always known Washington as an A-list talent, but he’s never quite given a performance this incredible or complex. He’s able to balance Troy’s vulnerability, darkness, and humor. Washington makes all of this come together beautifully on screen.
Viola Davis’s Rose explodes with emotion on screen, and has some devastating moments that cut deep. Taken that this is a role the actress has done hundreds of times on stage the familiarity of the character still manages to feel fresh with its translation to film. Davis is at the top of her game in this role that she’ll be remembered for forever, and one that very well could win her every award she’s up for.
Fences is Washington’s third outing as a director having directed Antwone Fisher, and The Great Debaters previously. This is by far his best film to date. As a director he’s able to make the play come to life outside of the intimate experience of seeing it on stage. Almost blindsiding you with emotions all the characters are going through on screen it’s one of 2016’s most unforgettable experiences in film.
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