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The City Journals

Dan's Review: "Fences" a great stage play brought to film

Dec 23, 2016 09:01PM ● By Dan Metcalf

Jovan Adepo and Denzel Washington in Fences - © 2016 - Paramount.

Fences (Paramount)

Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, language and some suggestive references.

Starring Denzel Washington, Viola Davis, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Jovan Adepo, Russell Hornsby, Mykelti Williamson, Saniyya Sidney.

Written by August Wilson, based on “Fences” (play) by August Wilson.

Directed by Denzel Washington.



The cliché of an actor “really wanting” to direct isn’t always a bad thing. Some very talented actors have helmed some very impressive films, including Robert Redford, Clint Eastwood, Kevin Costner, Mel Gibson, Ben Affleck, Ron Howard, Rob Reiner, Peter Berg, Woody Allen, Gene Kelly and Charles Chaplin (some are much better at directing than they are at acting – and vice-versa - but I’ll leave that argument to another time). Denzel Washington has directed twice before now (Antoine Fisher and The Great Debaters), but neither film carried much weight at the box office or among awards groups. Denzel tries his hand once more in Fences, a film adaptation of the Pulizer Prize-winning play by August Wilson.

Washing also stars in the film, taking the lead role of Troy Maxon, a tough husband and father who makes a living in Pittsburgh as a garbage man during the late 1950s and early 60s. His wife Rose (Viola Davis) helps raise their son Cory (Jovan Adepo), an aspiring football player with a chance at a college scholarship. Troy confides in his best friend Jim Bono (Steven McKinley Henderson), while dealing with his brain-damaged brother (Mykelti Williamson) and estranged son Lyons (Russell Hornsby) a down on his luck musician who frequently visits to borrow money. Troy is a man who rules his house with an iron fist and has particular ideas about how to discipline his family, while showing little discipline over his own vices. Family drama increases as Cory disobeys his father and Troy himself must deal with his own demons.

Fences is a superb adaptation of a great literary work. August Wilson adapted his play for the screen before his death in 2005, and the film plays out very much like a stage play. The performances are what set Fences apart from other theatrical adaptations. Denzel Washington anchors the ensemble, giving yet another powerhouse performance (as he did on Broadway in 2010, along with reunited cast mates Williamson, Hornsby and Henderson) that should garner a lot of awards nominations. It is Viola Davis who stands out the most among the great ensemble, delivering a portrayal of a tough woman who must sacrifice a lot to keep her family together.

Fences certainly has a lot of dialogue, which may turn off some audiences who expect more cinematic themes. Even so, its good to know there are perspectives to be learned from - that most may not be familiar with, especially from an African-American point of view. Fences is n excellent way to see good theater – on the big screen.

Fences Trailer