By Cynthia Biddlecomb
“Fences” is a late 2016 film just nominated for an Oscar for Best Picture. Directed by Denzel Washington, the film is based almost entirely on the Pulitzer Prize winning play of the same name written by August Wilson. It tells about a period of about ten years in the life of a1950s, African-American, urban family, living in a row house.
Denzel Washington plays Troy Maxson, a fifty-something sanitation worker living with his wife and teenage son. Stephen Henderson plays Troy’s best friend and co-worker, Jim Bono, Troy’s conscience and support system.
At home, Troy’s wife, Rose (Viola Davis), cooks and cleans and keeps involved in son Cory’s (Jovan Adepo) life of good grades and high school football. Troy’s grown son from a previous marriage, Lyons (Russell Hornsby), shows up on Troy’s payday to ask for $10; Lyons lives from one jazz club gig to the next, showing no interest in what Troy calls real work. And then there is Troy’s brain-damaged, World War II Veteran, brother, Gabe.
Turns out Troy was a very successful baseball player in the Negro Leagues, and he still carries his disappointment that black players were kept out of major league teams, despite their skills. The more Troy talks (and he does like to spin a yarn), the more we learn about his rough, rural upbringing and his time in prison.
Troy is devoted to Rose and says she was the best decision he ever made in his life. Yet, he is destined, to make some really bad decisions in this story.
Most of the tension of this stage-play-set-to-film is within the marriage of Troy and Rose, and their differing ideas of what Cory should be doing to prepare for leaving high school. The relationship between Troy and Cory is even more tense as the story evolves. Troy just wants life to cut him a break now and then.
The performances of Viola Davis and Denzel Washington in this modest film are definitely Oscar-worthy, and both have been nominated for their acting in Fences.
Fences raises issues about parenting, faithfulness, and not striking out when life throws you a curve ball. Even as we are finding that we relate to the ways these folks have chosen to make their way through life, we realize the additional efforts that are being required of them due to racial discrimination. Are things changing for the better for Blacks in their era? Troy thinks not. But Cory, Rose, Lyons and Bono will attempt to convince him that important strides have been made.
Fences is “Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, language and some suggestive references”. The violence of the film is in the harsh language thrown between family members. This is a grown up film. And the fence Rose wants Troy and Cory to build in the yard becomes a metaphor for what’s going on in the family.
Powerful performances are the reason to see this film.