Monday, June 26, 2017

Fences: A Tour de Force on Film

Movie Review: Fences (2016)
Version: Library Borrow

Based on his play of the same name, August Wilson creates a tour de force on film in Fences. Director Denzel Washington packs it with star power with himself in the lead role as Troy Maxson, Viola Davis as his wife Rose, Jovan Adepo as his son Cory, and Stephen Henderson as his best friend and neighbor Bono. A cast of fine supporting actors fills in around the central characters to make a memorable film. It was more than deserving of its Oscar nominations.

Fences is the story about Troy Maxson, a 1950's hard-nosed husband and father who takes nothing from anyone and expects only what he is due. After serving time in jail early in life for stealing, and then being cheated out of the opportunity as a Black man to make it as a professional baseball player, Troy settles into life as a garbage collector. He's learned his lessons in life, and what he has learned is to work hard, take what is rightly yours and give what is your duty to give, and then no more as he is faced with raising a family to avoid the same mistakes he has made. Troy has an edge harder than cast iron and a heart that seems to bleed little. At his side is Rose, a woman who gave up her dreams long ago to stand at her man's side out of love and devotion, even in times of heartbreak. And then there's Bono, who he met in jail and who now works at his side on the garbage truck, who serves as his conscience when Troy seems to stray from his path.

Derived from a play, Fences is heavy on dialog, but it's well delivered by Washington delivered at a fast clip as naturally as if it were coming straight from his heart. Henderson follows along just as naturally, as if he has known Washington all his life. Davis is always a strong performer and she pours her heart and soul into this performance with passionate dialog delivered with pain or with anger or with tears. Adepo doesn't get as much dialog, but his portrayal of the bullied son who finally won't take it any more is an excellent performance that builds over time into the climax of the drama. I am taken aback by the speed and force of the performances; so much dialog so well delivered.

There isn't much to the setting. Most of the film takes place in the Maxson's home or back yard. There are occasional shots elsewhere -- the garbage truck picking up trash on city streets, the neighborhood street out front of the house, the interior of city hall, a hospital interior, a tight shot inside a church -- but most of the story takes place in the back yard. It's a brutal place, where the fences are built and maintained: the physical fence Troy is building between houses, the psychological fences Troy is building between family. There is a baseball suspended from a tree and a bat that Troy and Cory swat as they take aim at each other. 

Sometimes the most complex stories are the most intriguing, forcing you to figure out all the pieces. Fences is one of those films. The many meanings behind the title. The many angles to the characters. The many convoluted relationships. The actual meaning or message of the film. It turns out Troy was far more complex than you first realized, and his relationships weren't simple, either.  

Fences is among the final Oscar-nominated films to make their way to us from the library. It was an amazing performance by a corps of great actors, and I'm glad I finally got to see it, a fine story well told. 

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