DIR: Denzel Washington • WRI: August Wilson • PRO: Todd Black, Denzel Washington • DOP: Charlotte Bruus Christensen • ED: Hughes Winborne • DES: David Gropman • MUS: Marcelo Zarvos • CAST: Denzel Washington, Viola Davis, Mykelti Williamson 

Fences tells the story of Troy Maxson, an African American garbageman making his best attempt at raising a family in 1950’s Pittsburgh as he battles against poverty, racism and his own inner demons. Written for the screen by August Wilson, the playwright who first brought Fences to the stage in 1987, the cast here is comprised of the same actors involved in the 2010 Broadway revival, including Denzel Washington who is also in the director’s chair for the third time in his career. Viola Davis reprises her role as Rose, the first woman to put the troubled Troy on the straight and narrow after a youth spent engaged in petty crime and philanderous conduct.

Even to those who, like myself, failed to take in the original play, it’s glaringly obvious that the screenplay has been adapted from the stage. However, this reviewer is of the opinion that the close quarters exchanges contribute greatly to the verisimilitude of the thematic content, where Wilson has pulled zero punches by allowing his characters to endure head on collisions with one another allowing for exploration of difficult immediate family dynamics. These interactions it seems, are intended to serve as a reflection of audience members’ relationships. As the narrative develops, each heated exchange proves more enthralling than the last.

None of these reflections prove more volatile or poignant than that of Troy’s with his son Cory (Jovan Adepo). Troy’s brand of tough love proves indigestible to Cory, who struggles to relate to his father’s harsh and harrowing lessons. In Troy’s eyes, his only duty to his son is to prepare and protect him from the harsh realities that shaped his life as an African-American as he blames his failure to play in major league baseball on the prejudices that prevented him from doing almost everything else. Having said that, Troy and Cory’s troubled relationship has the capacity to resonate with audiences the world over, regardless of creed, colour or socio-economic circumstance.

Simply put, the acting here is sublime. With so little else for the audience to focus on, it had to be. Peerless performances from Washington, Davis and Adepo make what could be an everyday family drama into something far more powerful. Make no mistake, that statement is not intended to take anything away from the source material. The content of the exchanges between the characters here is so fast paced it could take an uninitiated ear a scene or two to acclimatise, but once the audience tunes into the correct frequency, the back and forth verbiage proves both potent and intoxicating.

In a time when audiences fork over their hard earned cash to sit and stare agog at mind-numbingly gratuitous special effects with the odd moment of respite peppered with tired clichés, at the risk of using one myself; Fences is a welcome breath of fresh air. Real storytelling with characters so rich and deep that any form of flashy cinematography would serve only to distract from the emphatic triumph that is this film’s simplistic beauty.

Adding any further to this review would dampen the effectiveness of the film on audiences. All one can do in my position is to reiterate just how powerful a piece of cinema this truly is.

Gordon Brennan

138 minutes

12A See IFCO for details

Fences is released 17th February 2017
Fences – Official Website


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