Movie Reviews

Adventures in Fence Building (Fences Review)

Troy Maxson (Denzel Washington) makes his living as a sanitation worker in 1950s Pittsburgh. Maxson once dreamed of becoming a professional baseball player, but was deemed too old when the major leagues began admitting black athletes. Bitter over his missed opportunity, Troy creates further tension in his family when he squashes his son Cory’s (Jovan Adepo) chance to meet a college football recruiter.

I don’t need to convince anyone that this is a big one. It’s been a weird year for me since all the award contenders get to me later in the year but this was worth the wait. Denzel Washington and Viola Davis are universally lauded for their performances here and it is easy to see why. The are reprising their roles from the play i which this film is based. It isn’t easy bringing a play to the screen but if anyone can do it, it is director Denzel Washington.

Troy is more of an old school kind of guy (pretty obvious considering the film takes place in 1950s Pittsburgh). He works hard for his money and employs a tough love approach with his children. Broken and bitter after losing out on an opportunity to become a professional baseball player, he becomes stuck in the past and does not recognize the world changing around him. Being he’s stuck in the past, he still holds white people responsible for holding him back. We see this through conversations between him and his friend Mr. Bono (Stephen Henderson) on his back porch over some alcohol.

Troy took out his bitterness on Cory and his wife Rose (Davis), holding them back and realizing their own potential. Perhaps feeling threatened by his son’s athletic prowess, he sabotages Cory’s chance at a football scholarship as he believed he couldn’t earn a living from it. Cory begins to resent him but cannot muster the ability to stand up to him. Troy constantly challenged him to become a man. Troy did this with his intimidating and imposing presence. He just had the ability to go from charismatic to borderline scary whenever he felt disrespected (where he may or may not have also been drunk).

Troy could easily have been an unlikable character for being mean to Cory and his other child from a previous marriage named Lyons (Russell Hornsby) but it’s easy to see where he’s coming from. What helps his case is his relationship with Rose. They care for each other and bring out the best out of one another. She helps us to see his good side and to empathize with him. Despite the ups and downs in their lives, she has stood by him, sacrificing the life she could have had, which says a lot about her. She mostly lets Troy go until she couldn’t stand it anymore (in a great moment hinted at in the trailers).

The fences served as a metaphor as they are used to either keep people out or in. Troy kept his own prejudices and his family in and keeping reality out. Rose devoted herself to Troy, making a life with him within the same space for eighteen years, despite losing pieces of herself in the process. The fence held Cory back from realizing his dreams and becoming a man. Perhaps because of this, the majority of the film occurs in or around their house which the limits the scope of the story. Being based on a play, the film has that type of feel with fast paced dialogue and monologues which may leave some bored. Get ready for tons of dialogue as the plot is dialogue-driven, forgoing many bells and whistles.

But it’s difficult to get bored with the performances of Washington and Davis. They definitely both earn their nominations here with performances worthy of awards. Washington was great as Troy and was full of charisma, matching his imposing presence. Troy was not the nicest character but he still managed to make him likable in portraying his complexity as a bitter, family man. Davis was even better as Rose, standing strong by Troy. She started in the background, letting Troy go while she is being destroyed on the inside. The way she portrays her emotion with careful restraint until its inevitable release will win her many awards. The chemistry was excellent as they brought out the best of one another. Adepo was great as Cory, beaten down by Troy and then finally standing up to him. Henderson and Mykelti Williamson as Troy’s mentally challenged brother Gabe, were great as well in supporting roles.

Overall, this was a great film whose play nature may not be for everyone but should be seen for the performances of Washington and Davis.

Score: 9.5/10

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