What more can be given when everything has already been given? In 1950’s Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania lives Troy Maxson (Denzel Washington), a 53 year-old who makes his living as a waste collector. At one time, Troy was a great baseball player in the Negro Leagues, but was deemed too old to play in the Major Leagues once the MLB lifted the color barrier.
With his job, Troy has managed to provide for his wife Rose (Viola Davis), and their son Cory (Jovan Adepo). But it hasn’t been easy. Often, Troy thinks about what could have been instead of realizing what he’s got, which complicates his relationships, especially with Cory. As his 17-year old son approaches manhood and potential stardom on the football field, Troy struggles to accept the hand that life dealt him.
Adaptations—be it books, video games, or plays—don’t always translate to the silver screen. For one reason or another, an aspect or aspects of what made the adaptation special/worthy of a huge following in its original form often are missing once the adaptation becomes a movie. For Fences, based on a 1983 play by playwright August Wilson that was revived in 2010 starring Denzel Washington and Viola Davis, it’s not necessarily what is missing but what feels just a little out of place.
Washington not only stars here as Troy like he did in 2010, but also takes on the task of directing, his first directorial credit in over nine years (The Great Debaters). He recreates the blue-collar feel of 1950’s Pittsburgh and a specific neighborhood very well, where everyone is simply trying to make ends meet to get through day by day. Much of the movie’s production takes place in the small two-story Maxson household, and in a way, it almost becomes its own character. This is where the movie feels…right at home. Anytime where the feature traverses out of the home, things become kind of choppy.
Fences features an overall compelling plot, but it does have valleys in where its two hour, 18 minute runtime is felt. Nothing’s wrong with a bunch of dialogue, but I believe a key moment or two could have had more of a emotional effect if the moviegoing audience were allowed to actually see it as opposed to hearing about it. Granted, most of the dialogue pops on the screen, but on occasion (like the beginning for example), it is sort of clunky and just runs on and on. These moments are most indicative as to how playwriting and screenplay writing can sound different.
Still, Fences mends its film feature issues with explosive all-star performances from its duo, just like the initial trailer promised. As stated, Denzel is reprising his character from the 2010 play. His Troy possesses an amazing amount of depth. An enigma he is; a man yet simultaneously a kid, driven by duty, yet unwilling to accept even a small amount of responsibility for matters happening in his life. He’s a character who sees in black and white (literally and figuratively), yet he, despite not believing he does, has a whole lot of gray. Washington has always excelled at playing layered characters, and Fences is probably his best showcase of his acting prowess since Flight.
Joining him is Viola Davis, who won a Tony for her performance as Rose in the 2010 play. She may very well win an Oscar for the same role. This is very clearly a film that revolves around Washington, to the point that, intentionally or unintentionally, marginalizes Davis and her character for a while. As such, Davis doesn’t get a lot of opportunity to do a bunch. But, when her character finally comes out of her slumber, it’s something to behold. The rest of the cast does well also. Russell Hornsby, who I’ve appreciated since 2004’s Playmakers on ESPN, shows why he should be doing more in Hollywood, and Jovan Adepo is reminiscent of a young Derek Luke.
Performances translate across mediums, other aspects don’t always. Even without seeing the play, I’m convinced that Fences is a stellar one. After seeing the film, I’m convinced that Fences is a pretty good one.
Photo credits go to slashfilm.com, vanityfair.com, indiewire.com, and shadowandact.com.
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