Pittsburgh Patriachy

Fences

Director: Denzel Washington

Cast: Denzel Washington, Viola Davis, Jovan Adepo, Russell Hornsby, Mykelti Williamson, Stephen Henderson

Viola Davis gives a career defining performance in Fences, the big screen adaptation of the Pulitizer Prize winning play by August Wilson directed and starring Oscar winner Denzel Washington (Training Day, Glory). Davis whose previous credits include The Help, Eat, Pray, Love and Doubt recently won all the major acting awards including the Golden Globe, the Bafta and the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress at the 89th Academy Awards in February 2017.

Her performance in Fences is a testament to her immense talent. Davis plays Rose Maxson opposite Denzel Washington as Troy Maxson, a 1950’s African American garbage collector in Pittsburgh who punishes his sons for his own failed dreams.

Denzel Washington inhabits the screen in his larger than life portrayal of Troy, the Pittsburgh patriarch who is intent on demonstrating how hard he has worked to keep his family together, only to reveal far deeper character flaws and underlying fragility which comes out in the play’s stunning second act.

Troy’s sons Lyons and Cory, played by Russell Hornsby and Jovan Adepo are continually chided for pursuing their own dreams. Lyons, a son from Troy’s first relationship wants to be a jazz musician while the teenage Cory wonderfully played by Adepo is constantly held back from participating in the city’s football league merely because his father’s dreams of becoming a major football player were dashed at a young age.

Wilson carefully scripts the conflict scenes between Troy and Cory as they clash over ambition, careers and what is holding them back. Fences is about a working class African American family held together by Rose, as the mother figure who has to contend with all this male egotism and bravado, only to stoically continue when she is unforgivably betrayed.

Like all films based on plays, the action is limited to the Maxson’s house  and backyard where domestic clashes are played out in brilliant dialogue which requires exceptional acting capabilities. When Rose discovers a serious transgression of Troy, her security is shattered and her devotion to her husband is undoubtedly brought into question, causing a significant rift between Troy and Cory who cannot forgive his father for what he has done to his mother.

Directed by Denzel Washington and featuring brilliant performances by the entire cast, Fences is a superb film adaptation of an American classic elevating the lives of ordinary working class people to extraordinary clarity amidst a time when historically America was transforming through the significant Civil Rights movement. When JFK and Martin Luther King heralded a new decade in American politics defined by radical change and constant upheaval.

When the youth especially Cory and Lyons start questioning the wisdom of their parents decisions and more specifically their spectacular mistakes. Audiences should watch out for a particularly outstanding performance by Mykelti Williamson (Forest Gump, Heat, Con Air) as Troy’s disabled brother Gabriel.

Washington and Davis are electrifying as husband and wife and their screen time is a cinematic gem. Fences is highly recommended viewing, a brilliant film made all the more exceptional by Viola Davis’s unparalleled performance, in which she deserved every award bestowed upon her. Fences gets 9 out of 10.

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