FENCES (2016) News3LV.com Score: A
“YOU’RE FREED TO LIVE THE TEXT RATHER THAN PERFORM IT.”
Denzel Washington, New York Times Online
FENCES is not an easy movie to sit through, just as it was not an easy Broadway play to sit through. You have to love the stage play and you especially have to love the work of the poet turned playwright August Wilson. Mr. Wilson died ten years ago. It was and remains a tremendous loss. His towering work, 10 separate plays, each depicting a different decade of the African-American experience — is known as “The Pittsburgh Cycle”. Mr. Wilson won the Pulitzer Prize for “Fences” in 1987. It is considered his most popular and most personal work.
Denzel Washington and Viola Davis each won the Tony Award for their work in the 2010 Broadway revival. Each will certainly be nominated for an Academy Award for this film. Years from now, film students will be studying Denzel and Viola for the raw emotion and depth of their performances in FENCES.
The truth is the entire supporting cast delivers award-winning performances. Not surprising. In addition to Washington and Davis — Stephen McKinley Henderson, Russell Hornsby and Mykelt Williamson — all appeared together in the Broadway revival. Washington added two new young actors, Jovan Adepo and Saniya Sidney. Jovan, as Troy’s high school age son is nothing short of brilliant in this role.
The film is a two-hour non-stop dialogue-heavy story.
Far too many of my colleagues have dismissed the film directed by Mr. Washington for looking too much like a stage play. Several have said to me, “It was claustrophobic. Washington should have opened up the setting, that is what film can do.” I disagree. The action takes place in a real modest two-story brick house, with a small yard and a tree where a ball hangs from a rope in the Pittsburgh Hill District. In doing research for this review I discovered that the few scenes which are opened up and were filmed away from the house — are actually referenced in the original text.
Adapting this play and bringing it to the screen has taken more than 30 years to do. The film is set in 1957, and tells the story of Troy Maxson, a larger-than-life ex-convict garbage man whose dashed dream of baseball glory in a white world of pro ball has given him an angry and bitter view of life. A life of contradictions and conflicts. Maybe the reason why it may be so hard to sit through this film, is there is a lot of Troy, in each of us. We have made our mistakes. And we have lived with our regrets.