Denzel Washington could be considered a walking paradox in his latest film, “Fences.” The movie takes a deeper look into the human condition and shows how the actions of a single person can have ripple effects on other lives they touch.
"Fences" tells the story of a working class black father, Troy Maxson (Washington), attempting to raise a family in 1950’s Pittsburgh. Maxson struggles to overcome the events of the past while trying to keep a firm grip on his life in the present. Maxson’s inner power struggle causes his house to become divided.
A character like Maxson is a difficult one to bring to life on the stage — let along the movie screen. Maxson carries a lot of baggage in his life from the racial discrimination he faced to the missed chance to play professional baseball to the time he served in prison. Washington shows the weight he carries on his shoulders through long-winded and sometimes disturbing stories he tells family and friends about his life.
Maxson works for the city’s sanitation department picking up trash and later driving a garbage truck. He tries to encourage his son to learn a trade rather than focus on sports like he had, because, as he stated, “that is something they can’t take from you.”
A powerful moment in the film is when Maxson faces off against his son and lays down some hard truths about life. Maxson tells his son, “Now don't you go through life worrying about whether somebody likes you or not! You best be makin' sure that they're doin' right by you! You understand what I'm sayin'?
"Fences" shows the joy and pain of life, but has some difficult moments, which in turn connects with people to the story in a very personal way. Some of those moments and conversations I have seen played out in my own family. At certain points, sitting in the theater gave me chills as those events unfolded and the raw emotion played out.
Viola Davis' performance can be summed up in one word — outstanding. The emotion and the depth she gave to her character, Rose Maxson (Troy’s wife), was gripping.
When Troy tells her about his infidelity he remarks that, “It's not easy for me to admit that I've been standing in the same place for eighteen years!” Rose responds back, “Well, I've been standing with you! I gave eighteen years of my life to stand in the same spot as you!”
The feeling of those words said by Rose can be heard through her deep voice and the tears running down her face as she delivers the powerful response back. It is truly a moment that Davis gave everything to make this scene come alive.
"Fences" was adapted from August Wilson's Pulitzer Prize-winning play. Wilson wrote the screenplay for the film and Washington directed it, which was his third film to direct with the others being “The Great Debaters” in 2007 and “Antwone Fisher” in 2002. In this film, he has shown audiences that his talent in front of the camera and behind it is equally matched. I hope that we will see more of his work behind the camera in the future.
"Fences" is a film that might not be a "forever one" because of the difficult subjects it covers, but it one that I would encourage everyone to go see.
I give fences four and half-mustaches out of five.
This film is rated PG-13 for thematic elements, language, and some suggestive references and runs 139 minutes.
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