Keep Them Out, Keep Them In
Stars: Denzel Washington, Viola Davis, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Jovan Adepo, Russell Hornsby and Mykelti Williamson
Director: Denzel Washington
Scriptwriter: August Wilson from his play
Composer: Marcelo Zarvos
Cinematographer: Charlotte Bruus Christensen
Rating: R for sexual connotations and themed material including threatening children
Running Length: 138 minutes
Denzel Washington both directs and stars in “Fences,” a film adaptation from the August Wilson play. Denzel won an award for his portrayal of Troy, an African-American man who can't read, but manages to get a job promotion. This is a middle-class family that exists through hard work in the 1950's. They have a house, no long-standing bills, plain furniture and a beautiful back patio surrounded by a fence. Does this keep strangers out, or the family in? Such is the topic of “Fences,” in which the building of an enclosure takes years. Viola Davis (who also won an award for her performance in this play) is Rose, Troy’s long-suffering wife, who stays with him despite his macho rules of running the house and making his own hours. Even their names are symbolic, as "Troy" is a proud city that falls and "Rose" is a flower that endures. “Fences” will surely garner Oscar nominations for the screenplay and actor performances.
The family consists of Troy, who is a garbage hauler, wanting a promotion to driver, though he doesn't have a license. He is a troubled man, thinking the world is against him and never recognizing his own mistakes. It is always someone else’s fault. Rose makes a home with cleanliness and her good cooking, always asking if someone there is hungry. Troy has an older son, Lyons (Russell Hornsby) who is a musician with a girlfriend. Occasionally, he comes by for money and this always causes a ripple in the household. Cory (Jovan Adepo) is Troy and Rose’s son, in high school, and wanting to go to college and play football, though Troy strongly discourages him and even gets mean about this subject, and we see that Troy couldn't make it in his youth, so his son shouldn't either. This is a sharpened sword. Troy can talk things out with his best friend and work partner, Bono (Stephen McKinley Henderson), who tells it the way it is and the only one Troy will listen to. In this mix, is also Troy’s brother, Gabe (Mykelti Williamson) who is a war veteran, was seriously wounded, and has mental issues. Troy is his guardian, and the family is always on the alert for Gabe’s behavior. The story moves along from trying to get a raise at work to Gabe’s being arrested a few times for his behavior, Cory trying to work after school and practice football, against Troy’s house rules, and something else.....
“Fences,” being adapted from a play and thus depending on dialogue to carry it along without much scenery, has a tendency to be claustrophobic at times. Hearing speech after speech explaining that person’s actions in one room is prolonging and it would have helped to have carried conversations from room to room or onto the patio for variation. So, you have the living room, kitchen, bedroom, front steps and back patio, plus a street scene or two. Being confined to a space does give the camera a chance to watch actor’s faces and they make the most of this. It is an artist’s dream to get this much camera space and no explosions or chases going on around you.
As far as acting, both Denzel Washington and Viola Davis breathe their roles as Troy and Rose. They have done it many times and each gets a chance for a hunk of dialogue, as do the other actors in their roles as the sons, working partner and brother. Everyone has a chance and in the end, you have a picture of life in which hope is there in such sparse quantities that it is barely visible...but it is there. Fences can be climbed and the view is freedom.
Copyright 2016 Marie Asner
For more reviews of Denzel Washington, see the following:
The Book of Eli