Some people build fences to keep people out, and other people build fences to keep people in.
That’s what Bono says to himself as things come to a head between his friend Troy, Troy’s son Cory, and Troy’s wife Rose. It’s a beautiful description of how I felt watching this movie.
Cast: Denzel Washington, Viola Davis, Stephen Henderson, Jovan Adepo, Russell Hornsby, Mykelti Williamson, Saniyya Sidney
Director: Denzel Washington
released on blu-ray March 14, 2017
Rotten Tomatoes: 93%, Audience Score 78%
The Guardian: ****/*****
Denzel Washington is an American actor, director and producer.
He is well known for his portrayals of all kinds of men on screen for almost forty years. Some of best known roles are in the films Glory, Malcolm X, Philadelphia, The Bone Collector, Remember The Titans, Training Day, John Q., American Gangster, Flight, and many others.
Fences is Washington’s third outing in the director chair, after Antwone Fisher and The Great Debaters.
But this is the first time that Denzel has been up for both Best Actor and Best Director during the Oscars. And I now understand why he felt robbed when Casey Affleck took it home. I’m not going to spend a bunch of time outlining the story here, because I think it speaks for itself, that, and IMDB has a handy little summary already written up by Claudio Carvalho –
In the 50’s, in Pittsburgh, the bitter and proud fifty-three year-old garbageman Troy Maxson (Denzel Washington) lives a simple life in a poor neighborhood with his wife Rose Maxson (Viola Davis), his teenage son Cory (Jovan Adepo), who is an amateur football player, and his brother Gabriel “Gabe” (Mykelti Williamson) that is an insane man after losing part of his skull in the war. His best friend is Jim Bono (Stephen Henderson), who works with him, and his estranged thirty-four year-old son Lyons (Russell Hornsby) is married and tries to survive as a musician with financial difficulties. Troy is a frustrated man since he was too old to become a professional baseball player when the leagues began to admit black athletes. He refuses to receive the recruiter of a college and consequently does not allow Cory to join college. The tension increases in his family when he confesses to Rose that he has a mistress that is pregnant. Meanwhile he has been building a fence in the limits of his real estate.
Pros: Viola Davis is at the centre of this story, and her performance outshines Washington, but only slightly, and that is impressive. The drama of this story builds ever so slowly, but once the second and third acts arrive, you cannot imagine anything different happening.
Cons: Through all of the excellent performances and excellent story adaptation, it can be challenging to see this as anything other than a well documented stage play.
Runtime: 2 hours 19 minutes
Points of Interest: This was August Wilson’s first ever adaptation of one of his own plays, and he insisted it be directed by an African-American. This is also the second time Viola and Washington have portrayed these roles. The first time being in 2010.
This is a very moving and realistic portrayal of working class life, and I suspect it does an even better story of depicting what black people STILL experience in the way of prejudice while going through the same life problems everybody else has to. We watch Troy start out as an admirable family man, and are suddenly shocked to learn he has been less than stellar in recent years.
This is a moving drama which could apply to anybody, but the cultural references are what distinguish it and make it something to acknowledge people of black culture without gentrifying and generalizing them.
In short, I think August Wilson would be proud to see his play adapted for the big screen finally. But only time will tell if this story becomes part of history or remains as a daily portrait. Either way, I think Washington could easily have gotten the oscar, but that’s just a theory!