Fences is probably the most successful play of August Wilson‘s celebrated “Pittsburgh Cycle“. It won the Pulitzer Prize in 1983, premiering on Broadway in 1987 with James Earl Jones as Troy Maxson. Wilson completed a screenplay before his death with Paramount holding the rights but Wilson insisted on an African-American director so the project was shelved for a number of years. Denzel Washington, who had directed two films before, was glad to oblige and is now bringing Fences to the big screen.
The film opens with the noises of a garbage disposal truck before we see two men working in the back – Troy Maxson (Denzel Washington) and his friend Jim Bono (Stephen McKinley Henderson) doing the dirty work. Yet Troy has other ideas, he wants to become the first black garbage truck driver in 1950s Pittsburgh although he does not even know how to drive. As the two men are walking home, children are playing stickball in the street and some are taunting Troy’s brother Gabe (Mykelti Williamson) who is mentally impaired due to a head injury sustained in World War II. Gabe constantly carries a horn to drive away the demons like the angel Gabriel.
As Troy shares a beer with his friend, talking about old times, his estranged son from a previous marriage, Lyons Maxson (Russell Hornsby) stops by to borrow money. Troy rejects Lyons’ dream of becoming a musician instead of finding a real job, accusing him of shirking his responsibilities. When Troy’s wife Rose (Viola Davis) later tells him that their son Cory (Jovan Adepo) is being scouted by a college football team, Troy is dismissive of Cory’s chances of playing professional football. Although Troy was an outstanding baseball player he never made it into the Major Leagues, which he blames on racial discrimination. Convinced that little has changed, he refuses to sign the permission documents if the college recruiter visits their home.
The title of the film refers to a physical fence that is built in the backyard over many years but it is also symbolic of the emotional barrier that Troy erects between himself and his sons, the obstacles Troy has never managed to overcome, as a baseball player or in his personal life. Troy is a flawed man who has to pay the price for his rigidity and stubbornness.
Denzel Washington has created a film that remains very close to the stage play but at the same time appears very cinematic. Troy’s neighbourhood, the Hill District, is treated as a character in its own right and is beautifully shot in warm colours by cinematographer Charlotte Bruus Christensen. Close ups and long camera shots prevents the impression that one is watching a filmed stage production.
Viola Davis has just won a Golden Globe and a BAFTA for her performance as Rose, a strong woman with high moral principles and a match for Denzel Washington’s hardened Troy who sees his duty as a husband and father fulfilled by providing for his family. Henderson is delightful as Troy’s old friend Bono, indulging Troy in any way, and Adepo conveys the restrained aggression and frustration of a young man who is still dependent on his father. 4/5
Review written by Carolin Kopplin.
Fences will be released nationwide on Friday 17th February 2017. To find out more or book tickets, visit here…