In Fences, Denzel Washington does a fantastic job of translating August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play onto the big screen, a feat which has often proved difficult for other plays-turned-movie in the past. However, what really makes the movie amazing are the powerful performances delivered by Washington and Viola Davis, who play a married couple living in Pittsburgh during the racially-tense 1950s. Washington and Davis have already played their characters in the theatre, both also winning Tonys for their performances. Their comfort acting the characters is evident.
Troy Marxson (Washington), a waste collector who once dreamed of playing Major League Baseball, was turned down due to his age. Troy is bitter at the world for the constant discrimination he faces but simultaneously proud—maybe even cocky—of what he has managed to accomplish. His resentment towards the world for crushing his dreams causes him to be severely critical of his sons’ dreams. Washington fills out his character remarkably without acting over-dramatically.
Davis counteracts his role playing Rose, Troy’s wife. Rose keeps Troy in line, correcting him when he’s too harsh, and often acts as his emotional support. Davis is absolutely amazing as Rose, sometimes even upstaging Washington. The two have a remarkable chemistry and the scenes with the two of them are always the most engaging and intense.
The other actors do a fantastic job of keeping the movie interesting as well. All of the original cast returned for the movie adaptation, barring Jovan Adepo, who plays Cory, Troy and Rose’s son. Cory is an aspiring football player who wants to follow in his father’s footsteps, but is stopped by Troy’s stubbornness.
Despite Adepo’s relative unfamiliarity with the role, he keeps up with the more seasoned actors. Stephen McKinley Henderson plays Bono, Troy’s colleague and close friend. Henderson’s more gentle acting serves as a buffer to Washington’s, keeping the movie from being too dramatic.
The only character that perhaps feels a little too theatrical is Gabriel, Troy’s brother, played by Mykelti Williamson. Gabriel is a veteran who survives a brain injury, but is left intellectually challenged. He often waxes poetic about how the reckoning will come, often making the character too theatrical and exaggerated, but Fences is not any less engaging for it.
It’s obvious at certain times that the movie has been adapted from a play, with occasional long, dramatic, drawn-out dialogue that is uncharacteristic for movies. However, the writing is rich and powerful, and the star-studded cast delivers the script with such a powerful intensity that the movie, for the most part, remains engaging.
As Fences was adapted from a play, the setting very rarely changes. Most of the movie takes place in Troy and Rose’s house, so the movie can occasionally feel a little stale and slow. Once the plot starts to pick up, however, the actors more than make up for it with their stellar acting. Washington, for the most part, manages to make the small settings work; they often add to the intimacy of the scenes.
While Fences struggles a little to be an engaging movie, the performances from the star-studded cast and the incredible writing still make it amazing.