“FENCES” My rating: B+
138 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13
Two-time Oscar winner Denzel Washington has never given — and may never again give — a performance as deep and revelatory as he does in “Fences.”
This screen adaptation of August Wilson’s 1987 Pulitzer-winning drama — directed by Washington — offers the ideal match of performer and part, allowing the actor to sink his teeth into a role so perfectly balanced in subtlety and grandiosity as to reduce most film acting to the level of cardboard cutouts.
The dialogue is rendered in a sort of mid-century black urban dialect, but the effect is nothing short of Shakespearean. In its power and complexity “Fences” feels like an African American “King Lear.”
Set in the late 1950s in a black neighborhood of Pittsburgh, Wilson’s drama centers on Troy Maxson (Washington), a man fiercely determined to keep his dignity while fighting his own set of demons.
A minor star of baseball’s Negr0 leagues, Troy was too old to benefit from Jackie Robinson’s integration of the majors, and that missed opportunity still rankles him. Now he works as a city trash collector and is noisily wrangling for a position as a truck driver, a gig usually restricted to whites. Troy sees that discriminatory policy less as a social injustice than as a personal affront.
Smooth talking but essentially combative, Troy nurses old hurts that gnaw at his manhood. He can be outwardly friendly and garrulous, a raconteur and an entertainer. But he can turn on a dime if the wrong button is pushed, and then his belligerent, dark side flashes. Troy invariably has a loquacious argument to justify his transgressions, but push him too hard and the dominating and intimidating side of his personality steps up to slap down his critics.
Wilson’s screenplay (actually it’s his stage play, with the addition of just one line of dialogue) provides Troy with an assortment of friends and family members who serve as his audience and occasional victims.
His wife Rose (a stunning Viola Davis) is a friendly, outgoing woman who has learned how and when not to push her explosive spouse. Often they seem true equals; at other times it’s obvious that Rose must walk on eggshells around her man. (more…)