Released December 25th
Fences is a type of film I sometimes find annoying. It’s a powerful award-winning play by August Wilson. Normally I would say I would rather see a play on stage than have it transposed to film. However the performances are so brave and heartfelt in this piece that I could feel an intimacy with the characters through the medium of film – an intimacy probably even more pronounced than it would have been viewing the stage production. The play opened on Broadway in 1987 and generated Tony Awards for Best Play and Best Actor (James Earl Jones) and Best Featured Actress. In that same year Wilson won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama for this play. Its revival in 2010 won Best Revival Tony and a Best Actor nod for Denzel Washington and Best Actress for Viola Davis. Both reprise their roles in this film.
The setting is 1950’s Pittsburgh. Wilson takes an honest and fearless look at the hardships and triumphs of the black experience in that city at the time. Many of the conflicts, relationships and human flaws portrayed in this story are universal to all of us. However the “black experience” can magnify many of these struggles ten times over.
Denzel Washington directed the movie. He had the sensibility to get out of the way of the material and to let it be an intimate theatre piece. He also has the strength and dramatic chops to portray the noble yet misguided quest for heroism of his lead character “Troy”, and the disappointments that this quest triggers. Viola Davis is remarkable as Troy’s wife “Rose” who in spite of being named for a flower is really the rock beneath her family. Also notable are Mykelti Williamson as “Gabe”, Russell Hornsby as “Lyons”, Stephen Henderson as Troy’s friend “Bono”, Saniyya Sidney as “Raynell” and a great turn by a young actor relatively new to the business, Jovan Adepo as “Cory”.
Viola Davis puts it best in an interview about “black life” as represented in the film. She says “I think sometimes what people miss about black people is that we’re complicated, that we are indeed messy, that we do our best with what we’ve been given. We come into the world exactly like you. It’s just that there are circumstances in the culture that are dictated and put on our lives that we have to fight against.”
Fences is worth seeing as great drama and also as an up-close and personal look at a very important chapter in the history of our country.
Kathryn Whitney Boole has spent most of her life in the entertainment industry, which is the backdrop for remarkable adventures with extraordinary people. She is a Talent Manager with Studio Talent Group in Santa Monica. firstname.lastname@example.org. For previously published reviews see https://kwboole.wordpress.com