Wednesday, December 28, 2016

[Review] Fences

Death. Taxes. Baseball.

Denzel Washington directs and stars in Fences, a big screen adaptation of August Wilson's strikingly powerful stage play of the same name. The results? Pretty damned good, thanks to some excellent lead performances from Washington and Viola Davis.

1950s Pittsburgh. Troy (Washington) is a hardworking garbage collector with a weighty past. He also once was a talented baseball player, and depending on whom you ask, he was rejected by the Major Leagues either because of his age or color. The slow-burning story delves into his relationships with his wife Rose (Davis), estranged grown-up son Lyons (Russell Hornsby), his mentally impaired brother Gabe (Mykelti Williamson), his longtime best friend Bono (Stephen McKinley Henderson), and his high school aged son Cory (Jovan Adepo), who's being scouted for college football.

Now, the film definitely feels like watching a stage play. It's packed with heavy, longwinded rants of dialogue and it all takes place in minimal, contained locations. But August Wilson's words are so strong. So very strong that Fences still compels with its deeply developed characters, its snappy and loaded subtexts, its sharp lean on symbolism and metaphors, and its narrative of rich themes like race, class, family, and duty. Denzel Washington and Viola Davis are absolutely stunning (no surprise there). This is an environment made for them to thrive in. The duo engages in a handful of intensely emotional scenes together where you might find yourself thinking, "Yep, Oscar nominations..."

Troy Maxson is a character that leaves such a haunting impression, as he walks a chalk-dusted line between noble hero and problematic villain. He's remarkably flawed, complicated, and he wears his mistakes on his sleeve. He's as funny and playful as he is mean and stubborn. He's both wise and head-scratching. Charismatic and clumsy. And even tragic. As the film progresses, it becomes harder and harder to stick by his side, especially considering the way his actions affect his family. But I was still in awe as I witnessed Denzel's committed, flesh and blood portrayal of such a boldly complex character. And as Troy himself would say, "What law is there saying I got to like you?"

* 8.5/10 *

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