Fences – Film Review by Frank L.
Director: Denzel Washington
Writers: August Wilson (screenplay), August Wilson (based upon his play “Fences”)
Stars: Denzel Washington, Viola Davis, Stephen Henderson
Fences is a film adaptation by Angus Wilson of his 1999 Pulitzer prize winning play of the same title that formed part of his group of ten plays entitled the “Philadelphia Cycle”. Troy Maxson (Denzel Washington) is an African American sanitation worker, who works off the back of a garbage truck, alongside his white mate, Bono in 1950s Philadelphia. He had hoped as a young man to be a football league player but by the time the ban on blacks was lifted he was too old. He has a brother Gabriel (Mykelti Williamson), an army veteran, who has a brain injury received in the second World War, which has left him in a benign but somewhat damaged state. He also has a grown-up son from an earlier marriage but he is now married to a fine woman Rose (Viola Davis) who has born him a son, Cory. He has hopes and ambitions but much of his ambition has been thwarted by his ethnic origins. The film tracks the conflicting pressures and hopes of his middle years and beyond.
The vast majority of the action takes place in the house and its back lot which he bought with the small compensation money Gabriel had been paid on leaving the army. It is here that the “Fences” of the title has its origins. It has an allegorical significance about keeping things out and also keeping other things in. It is the centre of Maxson’s domain. Rose is the ballast to his life but he finds it difficult to handle the various pressures on him as husband, brother, father and bread winner. These give Denzel Washington several scenes in which he can show his diverse qualities as an actor and he is well met by Viola Davis as Rose. They both give fine performances. However the film never really shakes off its genus as having emerged from being a play for the stage. The confrontations have a staginess to them which places them at an oblique to the back yard in particular. The relationship between Maxson and his second son Cory and with his chum Bono are well ventilated and all add to the overall patina of the piece.
It is entirely appropriate that Denzil Washington has been nominated as best actor and Viola Davis as best supporting actress for the Oscars. Their performances makes “Fences” well worth a visit but overall as a film its pedigree from the stage lingers.