Director: Denzel Washington
Cast: Denzel Washington, Viola Davis, Stephen Henderson, Russell Hornsby, Jovan Adepo
Running Time: 138 minutes
Denzel Washington is an Oscar contender in about one of every three films he makes – FENCES is clearly one of those special performances.
As a director, he’s chosen to focus on the African-American experience – August Wilson’s Pulitzer and Tony-winning stage play being the strongest effort yet.
Troy Maxson – a 1950s garbage man with a lot to say – is a character that feels custom-made for Washington. Larger than life, full of conflict and bullshit, bravado and stubbornness, Troy is a big presence. He fills up the screen, he fills up a room, but it is Viola Davis as his wife Rose who offers an emotional and gravitational center to the story.
It doesn’t take much effort to pitch Viola Davis a ball she can hit out of the park. Denzel does just that.
As Rose – the force that keeps the family functioning smoothly – Davis quietly astonishes. She delivers every scene – from silly reminiscences to life-altering decisions – with the easy grace of a profound talent.
Together she and Washington boast such chemistry, their glances, smiles and gestures articulating a well-worn, bone-deep love. Their time together on-screen – which is a great chunk of the film – is an opportunity to watch two masters riff of each other for the benefit of character and audience alike. The result is in turns heart-warming and devastating.
The two leads benefit from the remarkable support of the ensemble – longtime character actor Stephen Henderson and Russell Hornsby, in particular.
True to the source material, Washington’s direction feels very stage-bound and theatrical. But in most respects, Washington’s delivery – faithful as it is to the idea of the stage from which it leapt – retains what is needed about the sense of confinement allowed by the few sets and locations.
This is a respectful and powerful tribute to the late Wilson, the playwright whose on-stage Fences saw its 2010 revival starring both Washington and Davis. There is no doubting this play’s bonafides, and Washington honors its intimacy and universal themes.
FENCES is released December 25th in the US and February 17th in the UK.