Denzel Washington and Viola Davis bring August Wilson’s Fences to life in mesmerizing adaptation!
Fences is one of the last movies to come out in 2016, and boy did Hollywood save the best for last. Based on August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize winning play, the film is acted and directed by Denzel Washington. A small scale set and a cast of only six main characters make Fences one of the most intimate movie going experiences seen in a while. While the story takes place in the 1950’s, Fences is just as relevant today as it is for the Maxson family struggling to make things work.
In 1956, Troy Maxson (Denzel Washington) is a hard working man who once had big dreams of playing professional baseball but slowly found himself working as a garbage man to support his family. Trading in hitting home runs for picking up people’s smelly trash has made him pretty bitter to say the least. His wife Rose (Viola Davis) stays home to take care of the house and food while Troy and his best friend Jim (Stephen Henderson) drive around in a garbage truck all day. Troy and Rose have a teenage son Corey (Jovan Adepo) who works hard both in school and at home, while having big dreams of playing football. Troy has another son from a different woman named Lyons (Russell Hornsby) who comes by the house every Friday to borrow some money to support his life as a struggling musician. Troy doesn’t understand his sons, as he came from a house with an abusive dad who gave him nothing, forcing him to run away at the age of fourteen. Troy spends his days working and drinking gin straight out of the bottle. He’s an alcoholic who lashes out at his sons and also cheats on his wife with another woman who is now pregnant with his child. Troy struggles to live life with his family, while failing to understand the new generation of black people versus the older one he lived in. The movie is dialogue heavy and many twists and turns are revealed in the Maxson family, many of which take place outside in the yard that is fenced in. “Some people build fences to keep people out, and other people build fences to keep people in”, Jim explains, as fences are an apt metaphor for the private versus public life of a black family’s experiences living in the 1950’s.
Fences is an ensemble piece made up of five actors and one actress. Every single person in this movie is perfect, with Washington in the lead. He embodies Troy, from morning hangovers that give him the shakes, to his gin guzzling long ranting monologues, Washington gives a career best performance. Troy is unpredictable, you never know if he’s going to be in a good mood, laughing at old memories and enjoying a drink with his friend, or if he’s going to fly off the handle and bully his son or rant about racism in baseball. Davis is Rose, she becomes the wife who stands by her husband through thick and thin. She laughs and smiles at her husband whom she has loved since day one, but can cry in an instant when things start to go south. Washington and Davis are so believable as husband and wife it’s hard to imagine that they are acting. Henderson as Troy’s best friend Jim is sensational. He brings some quiet, poignant insights and also lets us see a side to side to Troy no one else does. Both Russell Hornsby and Jovan Adepo are excellent as Troy’s sons, especially Adepo who has the most heart pounding scenes against Washington.
Fences was adapted word for word from the stage play by August Wilson. The set, costume, and shots are are small as it is a work based mainly on dialogue written for the stage. It takes a while to get into Fences as it is small and the script is poetic. There’s a rich cadence to the words and a rhythm to many of the dialogues. Both Washington and Davis played the roles on stage, winning Tony’s for their work deservedly so.
This marks the third time Denzel Washington has directed a film, after Antoine Fisher and The Great Debaters. He has taken a work made for the stage and adapted it to the screen beautifully. There are close up shots of each character, giving us an insight and subtlety to the Maxson family, something that can’t be done on stage. Washington has won two Oscars, one for 1989’s Glory and one for 2001’s Training Day. Davis has been nominated twice, for 2008’s Doubt and 2011’s The Help, the latter which she deserved to win for. Come Oscar night, you can bet very good money that Washington will take home his third gold statue and Davis will take home her first for embodying Troy and Rose in such a rich, powerful way. Fences is unlike any other film to come out this year, and one that will be remembered for a very long time.
Here is the trailer: