Troy Maxson makes his living as a sanitation worker in 1950s Pittsburgh. Maxson once dreamed of becoming a professional baseball player, but was deemed too old when the major leagues began admitting black athletes. Bitter over his missed opportunity, Troy creates further tension in his family when he squashes his son's chance to meet a college football recruiter.
It’s been almost a decade since Denzel Washington been in the director’s chair, and while the gates a bit rusty Fences is built on an amazing acting partnership.
Denzel’s been around the acting blocks for almost forty years and like any actor the desire to direct has burnt within – after being barked around they probably feel they could do better themselves – but few succeed and even less attempt again. This is his third shot and definitely his best, with Fences nailing four Oscar noms – Picture, Actor, Supporting Actress and Adapted Screenplay. Even though it’s already won the Dances With Wolves Kevin Costner award for a director not knowing when to cut away from himself.
Most of the action is set in Troy’s tiny backyard for this play-based film, but Danish cinematographer Charlotte Bruss Christensen (The Girl on the Train) makes the small arena sing. Though it seems like the damn fence will never get finished – you could have easily cut out half an hour of Denzel’s long and heavy monologues – Washington and Davis are just so good together it’s no wonder they both won Tony Awards for their Broadway performances. Sadly the playwright August Wilson died in 2005, but not before he finished the Oscar-nominated screenplay.
And it’s absolutely criminal that the brilliant Viola Davis didn’t get a Best Actress nomination. She’s the favourite to take home the Supporting gong, but she shares equal place with Denzel in this film and is quite frankly the true star here. Kudos to newcomer Jovan Adepo too, who as the berated son does outstanding work in his feature-film debut.
While it takes its damn time being built - and the heavy subject matter is tough going - Fences is definitely worth watching for the two powerhouse performances from Washington and Davis.
DVD Releases: 10th May 2017
Duration: 138 minutes
Starring: Denzel Washington, Viola Davis, Mykelti Williamson
Director: Denzel Washington (Antwone Fisher, The Great Debaters)
"Fences" opened on Broadway in 1987, winning the Tony Awards for Best Play, Best Actor (James Earl Jones), and Best Featured Actress (Mary Alice). A revival of "Fences" opened in 2010, winning the Tony Awards for Best Revival of a Play, Best Actor Denzel Washington, and Best Actress (Viola Davis). All five adult actors reprise their roles in this film adaptation, with Washington also directing.
Fences was originally a 1983 play by American playwright August Wilson. Set in the 1950s, it is the sixth in Wilson's ten-part "Pittsburgh Cycle". Like all of the "Pittsburgh" plays, Fences explores the evolving African-American experience and examines race relations, among other themes. The play won the 1987 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the 1987 Tony Award for Best Play.
Viola Davis's performance is campaigned as supporting during awards season. This placement was seen as category fraud by some awards pundits. In an interview with Deadline, Denzel Washington said he disagreed with the placement, but that is was Davis' own decision, which would improve her chances of winning.