(Denzel Washington & Viola Davis)
Well worth a visit for those who appreciate acting on a grand scale, particularly from Washington and Davis, not to mention a profound script from a great playwright. (Review: Patrick Compton - 8/10)
This movie comes fairly close to filmed theatre, but what theatre it is!
Fences is a Denzel Washington project. He plays the main role, as well as directs, and there is a good reason for this.
The play, set in 1957, is the best known of the 10-play “Pittsburgh cycle” written by the distinguished African-American playwright, August Wilson, who died in 2005. I mention Wilson’s race because although he was enthusiastic about having his Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning work adapted for the cinema, he didn’t want a white man to mediate the African-American experience that he so vividly projected.
Hence the delay in this epic work appearing on the screen, but it’s certainly been worth the wait.
The two main characters, Troy Maxson and his wife Rose, are played by Washington and Viola Davis, stars of the 2010 Broadway revival. They are, in a word, magnificent, jointly and separately.
Most of the action takes place in their working-class Pittsburgh suburb – inside the house, in their yard and on the street. Sometimes attempts to reimagine a play in the visual language of cinema backfire because we lose the intensity of the theatrical experience. Washington has ensured that, at the risk of staginess, the theatrical power of big characters colliding in a restricted space is retained.
Our first impression of Troy, a sanitation worker, is that he’s a great talker. In the first scene, he sails into our consciousness on a sea of words, first with his mate Bono (Stephen Henderson) and then, when they reach his home, with his wife. His language has a grandiloquent, poetic edge to it, and it’s clear that whether he’s bragging, blustering, joking or giving way to bitterness, it’s words that define him.
We quickly learn that Troy is a former baseball player who stepped up to the plate during the racist early days when black players weren’t able to break through. Troy is understandably bitter about his failed career and – stuck in a time warp – is reluctant to allow his son Cory (Jovan Adepo) to pursue a college football scholarship. Troy’s harsh, patriarchal, domineering attitude, allied to his outdated views, eventually leads to Cory becoming alienated from his father. Another source of stress is his relationship with his older son, Lyons (Russell Hornsby), a musician struggling to make ends meet who visits in order to borrow money from him.
While most of the early focus is on Troy, the balance of the play – and our sympathies – gradually begins to shift towards Rose, particularly when Troy makes a dramatic confession. Her plain speaking serves as a powerful antidote to his self-serving outspokenness. “What about my life?” she cries during an especially wrenching confrontation, and this becomes the moment when the tragic grandeur of the story begins to emerge.
This movie may miss most of the Oscar glitter at the upcoming Academy Awards, but for those who appreciate acting on a grand scale, particularly from Washington and Davis, not to mention a profound script from a great playwright, Fences is well worth a visit.
Fences opens in Durban tomorrow, February 17. – Patrick Compton