Magazine article Screen International

'Fences': Review

Magazine article Screen International

'Fences': Review

Article excerpt

Dir: Denzel Washington. US. 2016. 139mins

The father is traditionally the head of the household, but the burden of that responsibility can be smothering - to say nothing of the emotional collateral damage it can unleash on the rest of the family. Denzel Washington's marvellous adaptation of August Wilson's Pulitzer Prize-winning play provides the actor-director with one of his finest roles, and he gives a powerhouse performance as an ageing patriarch undone by his pride, stupidity and bitterness.

With Viola Davis equally magnificent as the man's long-suffering wife, Fences is a deeply affecting treatise on marriage, poverty and the struggles of sons to confront the long shadow of the man who brought them into this world. Opening Christmas Day in the US and February 3 in the UK, Fences looks set to be a major awards contender, with Washington and Davis in serious contention, as well as the film itself. High anticipation should translate into solid commercial returns.

Washington reprises the role which won him a Tony Award in 2010: He plays Troy, a garbage man living in Pittsburgh in the 1950s with his wife Rose (Davis, who won a Tony for the same Broadway revival of Wilson's 1983 play). Raising their teenage son Cory (Jovan Adepo), who longs to get a football scholarship, Troy and Rose enjoy a lower-working-class existence, but after 18 years of marriage, there are signs of strain in their relationship. For one, they differ about Cory's future - Troy doesn't want his boy to follow in his footsteps by trying to become an athlete - but, more importantly, Troy is hiding a devastating secret from Rose.

Wilson, who died in 2005, is credited with the screenplay, which is full of lively, funny dialogue as the verbose Troy enjoys gabbing with his best friend Bono (a heartfelt Stephen McKinley Henderson) and Rose, telling old stories, cracking jokes and generally being the centre of attention.

But Washington (who previously directed Antwone Fisher and The Great Debaters) gradually reveals a darkness beneath Troy's gregarious personality. A former well-regarded Negro League player who never got his shot at the big leagues because of segregation, Troy has always felt cheated out of his destiny, turning to booze and a domineering demeanour to overcome his regrets. His wife is devoted to him, but she senses that darkness, which is even more apparent to Cory, who is certain that his dad's resistance to him playing football is based around a fear that his son will outshine his own athletic achievements. …

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