Fences (R)

Directed by and starring Denzel Washington, Fences is a screen adaptation of the August Wilson play for which Denzel won a Tony Award for Best Actor in 2010.  Using the same core cast that appeared in that Broadway production, Fences co-stars Viola Davis, Mykeltie Williamson, Stephen Henderson and Russell Hornsby.

Wilson wrote a series of 10 plays which includes Fences.  Each work in the series is set in a different decade, and depicts comic and tragic aspects of the 20th century African-American experience from his perspective.  The other 9 installments will be executive produced by Washington in a deal made with HBO.  This is major.  Washington and HBO are partnering to make cultural experiences available to the masses, including those who cannot afford, or have simply never been to the theater.  I think it’s brilliant and important that people have the opportunity to be exposed to Wilson’s classics, and a new generation is introduced to his work.  While there is nothing like a live show on Broadway, hopefully this will become a trend in theater – that it all somehow makes its way to a more affordable medium so everyone can experience it and enjoy it.

For those who have never read the book or seen the play (like myself), Fences is a rather gritty picture of what a marriage can be like in real life along with the “love,” including failure, routine, disappointment, selfishness, control, close mindedness, bitterness, compromise, ego, self-loathing, obligation/responsibility feeling like a trap – the entire messy ball of wax; the bad with the good; the crookeds with the straights. Human flaws are examined, such as the audacity exhibited when judging others when you are in absolutely no position to do so, the ability to see every little fault in others while constantly justifying, excusing and overlooking your own bullshit, and being imperfectly human.  Troy is this larger than life, all-consuming personality at home, but a tiny man of little significance anywhere else – particularly in his own mind. So, to sum it all up – it’s about being a really shitty individual to the people who you’re closest to and the reasons you constantly push them away.  We’ve all been there, either as the shitty person or the one being shat upon.  Who cannot relate to that?

While making Philadelphia (1993), Tom Hanks said that working with Washington was like “going to film school” and that he learned more about acting by watching Denzel than from anyone else.  Denzel Washington is a consummate actor.  His performance here is nothing short of transcendent.  You would have to be dead not to be moved and thoroughly engrossed while watching him.  He pours himself into this role completely and the fit is perfect.  We’re only up to Golden Globe nominations, and I don’t know how things will turn out with the politics behind these awards and all, but I am here to tell you that nobody, but NOBODY in the Best Actor category for a Globe even comes close to this performance.  It is that powerful and rich and bold and masterful and colorful and diverse.  Troy is funny and tragic and pathetic and perfectly done.  I cannot comment on Viola’s chances at winning a Globe because I have not seen all the nominated films (specifically, Hidden Figures (Octavia Spencer).  But so far, as Rose, she has the meatiest role of the nominees and zero competition in my opinion.  Ms. Davis brings everything to this role and pours it out on the floor. She is a giver learning to set the necessary boundaries a taker never will.

I’m certain that it is difficult, if not nearly impossible, to find younger, less experienced actors who can stand out or even hold their own with this cast of veterans in this dramatic setting, but Jovan Adepo, who played Troy’s son, held his own in scenes with Denzel Washington.  These were some of my favorite scenes of this movie – to see the upcoming actor tangle with the master – particularly given the dynamic of the relationship between their two characters – What an incredible privilege for any young actor.

There is very little I can say I didn’t like about this movie. The “n” word is thrown around a lot, so if you’re easily offended by that, don’t bother.  August Wilson is the only credited writer here, so if you hear it, it is because the movie is in the original form of August Wilson’s words.  It is not tampered with to modernize it or tone it down or dress it up, and I love that.  My one complaint concerns an editing issue.  Although I understand why this scene was edited the way it was, I didn’t care for it.

Fences earned 9.0 out of 10 bloops. The work is elevated by the outstanding performances.  If you love a dramatic piece, it is an excellent, must see movie.  It doesn’t get much more dramatic than this, and at times it may be too much for some people, but not me.  Denzel Washington’s and Viola Davis’ performances each earned 10 out of 10 powerful bloops.  I would watch this movie again right now (although I have to admit, the story and performances have so much energy, I would be exhausted seeing it two nights in a row) and I am looking forward to the other 9 installments of Wilson’s works coming up on HBO.


1   =   worst ever, avoid at all cost
2   =   very bad, forget about it!
3   =   poor movie, not recommended
4   =   not good, even for free – NO!
5   =   so-so, worth it if you don’t have to pay.
6   =  not bad, could have been better
7   =   good movie, worth seeing
8   =   great movie, don’t miss it!
9   =   excellent movie, a must see!
10 =   a masterpiece, go see it now!

My Welcome Message

Oscar reviews:

Hidden Figures
Hell or High Water
La La Land
Manchester by the Sea
Hacksaw Ridge
Nocturnal Animals
Captain Fantastic
Florence Foster Jenkins
I Am Not Your Negro

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