Sanitation worker Troy Maxon (Denzel Washington) had dreams of becoming a baseball player, but that dream wasn’t available to an African American in the 1920‘s and 30’s, so he took the path most available to him, and married his wife Rose (Viola Davis) and set about raising his son, Cory. (Jovan Adepo) Life is far from easy for Troy, he feels pressure from his bosses because he wanted to be a driver and not someone who handled the refuse. Cory wants to play football and Troy flatly denies giving him permission. Troy’s older son, from another marriage, Lyons, (Russel Hornsby) is a musician, who Troy sees as a ne’er do well. Troy’s brother Gabriel (Mychelti Williamson) has suffered a brain injury in World War Two, and wanders the streets of Pittsburgh, talking to himself. Troy feels guilty because he took Gabriel’s settlement from the military to buy his house. There is a tenuous peace between all the disparate elements of Troy’s life, but then something happens to shake Troy’s family to the core. What is it? Does Troy’s family life ever return to the way it used to be?
Fences is the most honest and genuine working-class story I’ve seen in a long time, maybe ever. It’s the story of a man, whose dreams have already been dashed, who is trying to eke out a living as a garbage man. That is a story of an average working man. Troy wants better for his sons, but he doesn’t want them to take shortcuts. Troy’s sons want to be like Troy, but different from him. Troy struggles with his upbringing, his battle with his father, and his marriage. If these aren’t universal issues that every family faces, I don’t know what is. There are moments of happiness, but disaster is always on the razor’s edge. Even the characters have symbolic significance to them, Troy is the site of the Trojan War in the Iliad and there is certainly a war going on within Troy’s life. Gabriel, Troy’s brother, carries a trumpet, and thinks he is able to open the gates of Heaven, a reference to the Biblical angel Gabriel and his horn, made famous in African American spiritual songs. Rose is a sweet smelling flower, but watch her thorns. If anything, August Wilson’s screenplay peaks too soon, the last 25 minutes are anti-climactic, but until then the tension is palpable.
Denzel Washngton’s performance in Fences is nothing short of masterful. Troy strides into everyone’s life like a colossus, and tries to control the actions of every character in the film. Not every actor can handle the force of nature that Troy Maxon is. Denzel did, and he did it superbly, he wasn’t screaming throughout, Washington modulates his character’s voice perfectly. There is no doubt that Denzel Washington deserved the Academy Award for best actor. Viola Davis matches Washington, note for note, in an emotionally wrenching performance. Stephen Henderson is very good as Bono, Troy’s best friend. Jovan Adepo holds his own in scenes with Washington and Davis, not an easy thing to do.
The direction also by Washington has a few visual flourishes with good pacing and excellent performances throughout.
Fences: Keeps on building.