Film Review: Fences
“Extraordinary, Subtle and Beautiful”
Review of Fences by Caroline Hanks-Farmer
Based on the ‘Pulitzer’ and ‘Tony’ award winning play by August Wilson, Fences has Denzel Washington and Viola Davis taking the lead roles. Washington who also directs this film, as always demonstrating what a formidable tour de force actor and director he is.
Set in the 1950’s this is the sixth play from the ‘Pittsburgh Cycle’ of ten plays penned by playwright August Wilson. Each taking place in a decade in the last century. In fact at the screening I attended, with Washington present, I received interesting information. Washington told us that he had been informed that the estate of the late Wilson had now confirmed, he could have the rights to make each of the nine remaining plays into motion pictures. What a coup for Washington and reflects the standing he not only holds as an actor but as a sympathetic and respectful creative as well. All the “Pittsburgh” plays explore the evolving African-American experience and examines race relations, and other multiple themes.
Viola Davis co-stars as Washington’s wife, the true king pin to the family, who quietly but effectively keeps Washington on the straight and narrow. But can a leopard ever change his spots? Beautiful acting to watch, effortlessly delivered by Davis.
The focus of Wilson’s attention in Fences is Troy (Washington), a 53-year-old head of household who struggles with providing for his family. Troy a former successful baseball player is now a refuse collector. Life has not been kind to Troy who also spent time in prison for murder. Whilst he lives in a respectable suburb of Pittsburgh you can’t help but notice that Troy feels he is constantly trying overcome his dubious past. To try to become that winner he was formerly and to earn the respect of his wife and family, whilst breaking down the race barriers of the time.
Wife, Rose, (Davis) his son Cory (Jovan Adepo) all live in the home. This also has room for Troy’s younger brother Gabriel (Mykelti Williamson). The house was bought by Troy using Gabe’s compensation from his war injury as a soldier. The injury to his head has caused him noticeable psychological damage. It becomes apparent that a short time before, Gabriel has rented a room elsewhere, but still in the neighborhood. Lyons (Russell Hornsby) is Troy’s son from a previous marriage, and lives outside the home. Bono (Stephen McKinley Henderson) is Troy’s best friend and co-worker.
Both Davis and Washington’s acting is quite extraordinary in this film. The quality is of such a high standard that it’s got “Award Season” written all over it! Equally in standing, is the support of Williamson and Henderson. In Fences, the struggle to fight to provide and to be recognised as an equal is palpable. The exploration into relationships and balance of power real. This is a subtle film which is tenderly loyal to its play roots. I can’t wait to see what Washington does with the rest of the ‘Pittsburgh Cycle’.
A must see for any August Wilson and of course Denzel Washington fan!