Dir. Denzel Washington, USA/Canada 2016, Dur. 138 mins.
Cast: Denzel Washington, Viola Davis, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Jovan Adepo, Russell Hornsby, Mykelti Williamson
August Wilson wrote his play FENCES some 33 years ago. It has been on stage in England, most recently the 2013 version with Lenny Henry, who was very good as the father. Now Denzel Washington, who played the part on Broadway in 2010, along with others in the film, takes the role of Troy and also directs the movie FENCES.
Taking place in Pittsburgh in the 1950s, we gradually learn Troy’s story. Once he had aspirations to be a baseball star but was thwarted as, at that time, only white sportsmen succeeded. Now he is bitter and talks about the past as he works on a garbage truck alongside his best friend, Bono (a most sympathetic performance by Stephen Henderson). The two, in fact, met when Troy had a spell in prison. Troy is supported by his wife, Rose (Viola Davis), who attempts to get her husband to promote the ambitions of their son, Cory who wants to become a professional footballer. Troy refuses to allow him to play in the college team and wants him to get a job. Troy also argues with Lyons (Russell Hornsby), his 34 year-old son from a previous marriage. Lyons is a musician, but regularly appears at his father’s door on paydays to ask for money.
Denzel Washington plays Troy convincingly. He puts over the playwright’s tremendous dialogue with a real feeling for the words he speaks. Sometimes he sounds like a musical instrument as he gives colour to the words. He is backed by a most sympathetic performance by Stephen McKinley Henderson as his white work mate who is mostly content to sit and listen as Troy tells stories about his past.
The two sons come across well, too. Older son, Lyons – a tough role to put across well but Russell Hornsby manages it – a struggling musician who feels forced to ask his father for cash and the youngster Cory, a breakout performance by young Jovan Adepo. Mykelti Williamson is moving in the small part of Gabriel, the mentally damaged brother of Troy.
The outstanding role is played by Viola Davis as Rose – she is terrific and you can see why she is up for a Supporting Actress Oscar. In her speech telling her husband that while he regrets not having achieved much in his life, she has stood next to him all the way, she is not afraid to let mucous from her nose run down her face she confronts her husband with a few home truths.
Washington directs the movie in a workmanlike fashion. Even if there is not a lot of flair here, it is always truthful and one can believe that the characters portrayed really exist. It mostly takes place in the front yard of Troy’s home and doesn’t show much of the area around. Yes, it is stagey but it is actually very well-staged. It’s good to see that August Wilson, who wrote the screenplay of his play, got his wish for the film to be directed by a black director. It is a long film but always absorbing and one not to be missed. CARLIE NEWMAN
NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE