Directed by Denzel Washington
Denzel Washington has a much busier acting career than directorial. Nearly a decade has passed since he directed “The Great Debaters”, and fourteen since his directorial debut “Antwone Fisher”. On “Fences”, a wonderfully acted drama written by the late August Wilson and adapted from his own play, Washington maintains the tradition of taking over the leading role in every film he directs. He not only demonstrates his steady guidance with this challenging project but also delivers a great performance as Troy Maxson, an intransigent garbage collector who’s finally enjoying some stability in the aftermath of a complicated past. The film is set in 1950, Pittsburgh, where he owns a good house purchased with the compensation money consigned to his older brother, Gabriel (Mykelti Williamson), who returned impaired from the war.
An orphan since the age of 14, Troy remained incarcerated for several years after killing a man in a robbery. He was around 40 when he got out of the prison, and baseball became his life and passion. However, he never left the Negro Leagues, not because of the color of his skin but because of his age. Now in his early fifties, Troy still believes he was a victim of racial discrimination in that matter. Besides drinking, he loves to chat with his longtime workmate Jim Bono (Stephen Henderson), who praises their friendship, just like he does. They have a good reason to celebrate when Troy is promoted and becomes the first colored man in Pittsburgh driving a garbage truck, even with no driver’s license.
The main character also boasts a solid 18-year marriage with the kind-hearted Rose (Viola Davis), who accepts him with all his frailties. They have a 17-year-old son, Cory (Jovan Adepo), who intends to quit his job to play football but doesn’t have the permission of his father. Besides sabotaging all his dreams of becoming a professional footballer, Troy also makes him feel diminished and unloved with his resentful and authoritarian personality.
Troy surely acts in a different way with Lyons (Russell Hornsby), his estranged son from a previous relationship, who invariably stops by the house on his dad’s payday in order to borrow some money. He keeps trying to live as a musician, despite Troy’s opposition.
If the drama was already fierce, shoveling us into the wrangling between father and son, it becomes even more incisive after the disclosure that Troy has a mistress who is pregnant.
Well-calibrated in terms of emotions, “Fences” was able to create tension and trigger apprehension with a bitter story that above all, urges us to meditate on family, love, prejudice, selfishness, and the general earthly nature of the human being.
The human 'fences' portrayed here are deeply cutting and easy to connect with, thanks to the gigantic performances by Washington and Viola Davis.
It’s very unlikely that “Fences” win Oscars for best film or best adapted screenplay, its other two nominations, since the concurrence is ferocious. However, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the actors become victorious for their flawless work.