By Jose Jara
In Theaters December 25
Denzel Swings for the Fences By: Daniel Guzman
“Some people build fences to keep people out, and other people build fences to keep people in.” This line which is mentioned in the film “Fences” by the character Bono (Stephen McKinley Henderson) illustrates the hold that Troy Maxson (Denzel Washington) is so desperate to have on his family, yet unintentionally loses control of throughout this film’s adaptation of the Pulitzer prize-winning play by August Wilson.
Denzel Washington produced, starred, and directed in this motion picture which he also co-starred alongside Viola Davis, Stephen Henderson, Mykelti Henderson, and Russell Horsnby on Broadway in 2010, which garnished a Tony for both Denzel and Viola. Denzel now has brought the gang back together with a new player making his motion picture debut as Cory (Jovan Adepo), and gives a wider audience the opportunity to become familiar with August Wilson’s work. Turning Fences from play to film becomes a subtle, smooth transition for Denzel who gives the audience an experience that feels like Broadway, yet expands the scenery outside of the stage onto the Hill District Of Pittsburgh. Most of the scenes are shot in the Maxson family’s backyard, kitchen, living room and front steps, while there are even shorter scenes taking place outside of the home showing Troy at work as a sanitation worker and lounging at the local neighborhood bar.
The story’s timeline seems to take place during the late 1950’s as there is mention in passing dialogue of the newbie Puerto Rican player in the Pittsburgh Pirates named Clemente. Troy illustrates his love for baseball with a swinging baseball hanging on one of the branches of the tree in the yard with a bat leaning on the trunk ready for Troy to show that his swing hasn’t lost its touch, even if he is a mid century old. There is a constant mention of his glory days as a baseball player that he reminds his wife Rose (Viola) of while drinking his bottle of gin after payday on Fridays with his lifelong cellmate, neighbor, coworker and moral compass, Bono. Troy won’t let his family forget that he was robbed of the chance to make it to the major leagues due to the segregation that was widespread not only in baseball, but throughout the nation. The intensity of his bitterness of what an unfair life he’s had builds up even more as he sees his younger son, Cory, being in his prime in high school and having a possible scholarship to play football for college lands on Cory’s lap, but only as long as Troy signs off on it.
Troy is still not being done right by even in his years on the job as a sanitation worker alongside his comrade Bono, and he has taken it up with his bosses to point out that only white workers are given the opportunity as drivers, while the black man has to do all the hard labor. We are allowed to await the outcome of a meeting that will take place to see if there will be negative or positive repercussions to Troy speaking his mind at work. At home, Troy’s mentally disabled brother, Gabriel (Mykelti), is someone whom Troy tries to do right by given the fact that he was blessed with his house by Gabriel’s misfortune of having suffered a head injury while at war. Troy was made to be the caretaker of Gabriel after the war, thereby giving Troy the responsibility for the pay that Gabriel earned for his service injuries in the war, which he used to purchase the house. Gabriel and Troy butt heads about Gabriel not wanting to live in Troy’s home, but instead decides to stay in a separate apartment, even though Gabriel spends most of his time roaming the neighborhood selling produce. Gabriel is always carrying a trumpet around awaiting to sound it off in order to open the gates of heaven whenever the need may arise. Mykelti plays his character beautifully while cradling it with a childlike innocence and a knack for stomping onto the scenes with no thought of the conversations or turmoil that are taking place within the family. Troy’s eldest son, Lyons (Russell), shows up like clockwork every Friday, a musically gifted free spirit with no time or sense for the mind numbing doldrum of day to day work, yet enough time to stop in and borrow some of his father’s money that was earned while trudging through back breaking work. Troy is quick to let his son Lyons know what he thinks of his weekly leachness to his pocket and allergies to really earning his own pay.
Rose (Viola) is the peacemaker in the story who tries to bridle down Troy when he goes on rants with either son, or on and on about his misfortune in life. Viola plays her character powerfully yet subtle, taking in blows and handling blows for others in the family, enveloping herself in house chores, and allowing herself to get swooped away by Troy’s larger than life persona that is too big for his home or family to contain him. Troy’s insatiable discontent for his life leads him to make destructive decisions that end up cracking the foundation of his home and the relationships he is so determined to do right by.
Every cast member in this picture does a superb job in playing off the ferociousness that Denzel so easily plays this character with. I haven’t had the opportunity to of watched the play, but I’m sure that intensity that Wilson’s character in Troy has was something that Denzel was able to fine tune while performing it on stage countless times. He makes it look so easy, yet give it to any other actor, and it might be a feat that may look like a caricature rather than the flawed hero that Denzel creates. Viola Davis is a powerhouse in this film, and Stephen Henderson is a joy to watch with a candid performance that is so likeable with his facial gestures even more than his words. Jovan Adepo holds his own among these acting giants and embodies a son who is at a crossroads with a man he hates, yet loves. All in all, Fences is a story that leaves the viewer understanding the complexities a family goes through in owning up to its responsibilities and accepting the mistakes that are made in life that are unspillable.
PHOTO: Denzel Washington plays Troy Maxson and Viola Davis plays Rose Maxson in Fences from Paramount Pictures. Directed by Denzel Washington from a screenplay by August Wilson.