dir. Denzel Washington
written by: August Wilson
starring: Denzel Washington, Viola Davis, Stephen Henderson, Jovan Adepo, Mykelti Williamson, Russell Hornsby
3.25 out of 4 stars
Certain plays cannot escape their theatrical heat. Dialogue dense and timelessly relevant, August Wilson’s Fences maintains its intensity since its Pulitzer Prize-winning debut in 1987. After the initial run starring James Earl Jones and the 2010 revival starring Denzel Washington and Viola Davis, Wilson adapted his saga of working class African-American struggles for the screen. Reunited in their lead roles are Washington and Davis, with Washington grasping directing duties for the big screen.
The story of a Pittsburgh based trash collector who aspired to be a professional baseball player, Troy Maxson (Washington) struggles with his terrible decisions, past and present, to compensate. In the crossfire are his wife Rose (Davis), college football aspiring son Cory (Jovan Adepo), brain damaged brother Gabriel (Mykelti Williamson), and older son Lyons (Russell Hornsby). Through homebound interactions with his family and his longtime best friend Jim Bono (Stephen Henderson, reprising his Tony nominated Broadway role), we discover the pain brought upon through his life and how that dissatisfaction has bled into the lives of those around him.
Washington and Davis are the reason to see this film. Washington adds a layered, shifting performance for a man disappointed in his own life and piling his pain on his surroundings. Intensity carries the bulk of his performance, barreling over any in his way, but as the family and friend drift away, he finds more power in silence. Matching his power, Viola Davis steals the show, as usual. Though in my opinion a clear co-lead performance, her role will be clinching her supporting actress Oscar come February. She emotes in a power unavailable in live theater. Her reaction to Troy’s betrayal reveals 18 years of grief; you don’t fake that kind of snot dripping despair. She feels lived in through every moment of her appearance, which is the majority of the film. Hang on her every word, as she regains control of her life, the power is breathed into this woman. Davis will have that matching Oscar for the LEAD ACTRESS Tony she already won.
Though not a cinematic triumph, the late August Wilson wrapped his stage play into a homebound film worthy of the play. Not everyone has the benefit of catching timeless, award winning productions on the stage. Some of us were buried in undergrad far away from Broadway, so I am pleased we have a reproduction delivered to nearby theaters. This play expresses the disgruntled ire of the Pittsburgh working class, and the power of the performances enhance the project.