“How come you don’t like me?” teenage Cory Maxson (Jovan Adelpo) asks his father. “What law is there,” Troy Maxson (Denzel Washington) demands of his son, “that says I got to like you? I’m your father. That’s my job. That’s my responsibility. It’s not because I like you I go to work every day.” Later, Cory’s mother Rose Maxson (Viola Davis) says, “Your daddy wants you to be everything he isn’t. At the same time,” she adds, “he wants you to be everything he is.”
Will you be deeply affected, as I was, by these loving but wounded characters, their provocative dialog and tensions that surround them in 1950s Pittsburgh? See “Fences” for one of the best movie experiences of the year.
Denzel Washington leads — and directs — a cast of talented actors, of whom five, like himself, were cast members in a 2010 Broadway revival of “Fences” — playwright August Wilson’s Tony and Pulitzer Prize-winning play (1983). Washington is Troy Maxson — verbose, hurtful, funny, hard-headed, angry, bullying, and loving husband/father. As Rose, married 18 years to Troy, Viola Davis is Washington’s acting equal, using her usually quiet, grounded, patient speeches to reveal Rose as the family’s conscience and the drama’s voice of reason. “But what about my life?” she asks in her finest speech.
Others from the New York cast are Russell Hornsby, Mykelti Williamson and Stephen McKinley Henderson. Hornsby is Lyons, Troy’s adult son from a previous marriage. Lyons is a musician who, like others in the family, sees the world differently from Troy. Mykelti Williamson is Gabriel Maxson, Troy’s brother, brain-damaged in World War II, often hospitalized, whom Troy cares for and, Rose says, exploits. Stephen Henderson, Troy’s best friend and co-sanitation worker, Bono — or “Mr. Bono” as some call him — is another counter-voice, often humorous, to Troy’s unstoppable bluster. Jovan Adelpo plays Cory Maxson, high school football player, whose desire to accept a college scholarship is a family issue. Saniyya Sidney is young Raynell.
“Fences” is powerful family drama, intimate and closely focused on five characters, all performed by excellent actors. Director Washington confines the action to the Maxson’s back yard and small interior spaces. Close-ups and medium shots help us identify with the characters and pay appropriate attention to August Wilson’s compelling dialogue as it explores serious — and familiar — themes: fidelity, father-son conflicts, repressed anger, ambition and love. Like “Death of a Salesman,” “Fences” is a major drama about American families.
Rated PG-13 for themes, language and suggestive references, “Fences” runs 138 minutes. See it soon.
See Washington and Davis,
Powerful drama, “Fences” —