Tony's Take

FENCES review

Denzel Washington Brings the Stage to Life!

August Wilson’s critically-acclaimed 1983 stage play “Fences” is brought to life by Denzel Washington’s in “Fences”.  The film follows the story of an African-American family, living in Pittsburgh in the 1950’s.  The film’s topics include race relations and racism, marriage, adulthood, and family.  Troy Maxson, who works as a waste collector, does what he can to provide for his wife, Rose, and his family.  As they deal with their high school son Cory, a son from Troy’s previous marriage, Lyons, and Troy’s war-wounded brother, Gabriel, the Maxson family becomes more and more hostile as Troy ages.  The film touches on some of the conflicts that arise, both heartbreaking and unfortunate, all while attempting to paint the beautiful, Pulitzer-winning portrait that the late, great, August Wilson aspired to create; that’s just as powerful and relevant today!

Denzel Washington stars (and directs) as Troy Maxson, the patriarch of the film and a former Negro League baseball player.  Viola Davis stars as the Maxson’s matriarch, Rose Maxson.  Both reprising their roles from their 2010 stage run, Washington and Davis absolutely command the screen in their roles, both thoroughly deserving of awards recognition.  Stephen McKinley Henderson too reprises his stage role as a co-worker and family friend of the Maxson’s, Jim Bono.  Jovan Adepo is another bright spot of the film as Troy and Rose’s son, Cory.  Russell Hornsby also reprises his stage role as Troy’s son, Lyons.  Mykelti Williamson too returns for his role as Gabriel, Troy’s mentally unstable veteran brother.  Saniyya Sidney has a brief role as Cory’s young sister, Raynell.

“Fences” reminds you repeatedly that you’re watching a stage production-turned-film but, with Washington’s masterful direction and the cast’s award worthy performances, the film works on all levels; especially with its surprisingly-relative social topics!  The film opens-up with a 20-minute or so dialog-heavy scene; the setting doesn’t change and the banter continues on-and-on.  While it takes some time to adapt, once you lose yourself you find yourself fully-engulfed by the film’s story.  A story that is over 30 years old, but is just a culturally-relevant now as it was back then.  The film focuses on a beautiful allegory, fences; being used to keep Death outside of his property and other harmful disadvantages and struggles in life.  The Maxson family goes through many different life events over the course of the film, each one more significant than the previous.  “Fences” works so well due to its tremendous cast, particularly Washington and Davis.  Washington fully embodies August Wilson’s Troy Maxson, but the real power comes from his wife, Rose.  Viola Davis absolutely crushes her powerhouse-performance, giving the film an unbelievable does of courage and heart’ leaving the film all the more better for it.  Its’ supporting performances are just as important and Henderson, Adepo, Hornsby, and Williamson certainly do not disappoint!  Though purposeful through Washington’s direction, “Fences” leaves the viewer in full realization that they are watch a stage-to-screen production.  The sets rarely change and the scope of the film is centered on the Maxson home.  While not fitting to everybody’s taste, changing “Fences” into a more cinematic experience would serve as a disservice to both August Wilson and the viewers.  The film will surely divide opinion, but it’s worth a viewing for the award caliber performances alone!  “Fences” has a run time of 139 minutes and, through its few scenes of constant conversation and dialog, moves slowly through its’ story.  The film can be overlooked and misconstrued at its’ surface, but as the performances engulf the characters and their story is played-out, “Fences” leaves you reflecting back on not only your childhood, but your life as a whole; which can only be imagined as the true goal of August Wilson’s story.

“Fences” follows a lower class African-American family in Pittsburgh during the 1950s.  The film features a few incredible performances and a story filled with plenty of culturally-relevant topics.  If you are heading to the movies this Christmas, go experience “Fences”!! 

 4/5

FENCES is rated PG-13 for thematic elements, language and some suggestive references, in theaters CHRISTMAS DAY!

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