Movie review: Fences, based on August Wilson’s play

Denzel Washington and Viola Davis were Tony winners in the 2010 Broadway version of Fences.

The movie Fences is quite extraordinary. Some critics said it may be the best self-directed film ever, with Denzel Washington as not only star and director, but producer as well.

Troy Maxson (Washington), a garbage collector in 1950s Pittsburgh, who had dreams, and arguably the talent, to have been a major league baseball player, had integration in the sport come sooner. His wife Rose (the magnificent Viola Davis) tries to keep him and their working-class family ship afloat.

Fences is an adaptation of August Wilson’s Pulitzer-and-Tony-award-winning play. James Earl Jones and Mary Alice also won Tonys in the 1987-1998 Broadway production. Washington and Davis were Tony winners in the 2010 Broadway version which also won the award for best revival of a play.

Interesting video comparison between Jones’ and Washington’s performances here or here. Jones’ reading is sterner, while Denzel’s reading is garnering laughs.

I had seen a production of Fences at Capital Rep in Albany during the 1990-91 season with John Amos (Good Times, Roots) in the lead role, and that iteration, as I dimly recall, seemed less intense early on.

Denzel in the movie, though, is as ferocious as James Earl Jones was on the stage; that scene does not garner guffaws. Is it the different media, or six years that have passed that got him to revisit the character, or both, I can’t say. But what it does do is make the chinks in his armor even more profound.

The rest of the cast of Fences, the movie, is also strong. Stephen McKinley Henderson as Troy’s good friend Jim Bono, Jovan Adepo as Troy’s younger son Cory, Russell Hornsby as his grown son Lyons, and Mykelti Williamson as his brother Gabriel creates a fine ensemble.

I knew fellows like Troy Maxson and his friends growing up, mostly the men of the church where I grew up. It stirred some strong emotions throughout. There’s a bit of my father there, for sure.

The Wife and I saw Fences on Martin Luther King’s actual birthday, naturally at the Spectrum Theatre in Albany. The less you know going in, the better. Recommended.

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