Playwright August Wilson introduced his brilliant play Fences to the theatrical world in 1983; today Denzel Washington has taken the provocative play to a much larger screen as a film starring himself and Viola Davis. Troy Maxson, played by Denzel Washington, introduces spectators to an incredibly nuanced view of the black American working-class man during the 1950s. Whether it’s caring for his brother who was injured in WWII, or managing marriage and fatherhood, somehow it seems as if the odds are always slightly tipped against him. His wife is incredibly supportive, but presented with a number of challenges in her marriage to Troy as well as with their son Cory, who wants to create a path of his own.
In this stunning play, the audience gets a glimpse of the complexities of family, race, and love, oftentimes experiencing moments of joy and sorrow as we witness a tale of intertwined lives. Denzel Washington and Viola Davis give performances that are both intricate and heartbreaking. There is one particular scene between these two characters that is surely one of the best pieces of American film within the past few decades. It’s no surprise that both Viola Davis and Denzel Washington have been nominated for Screen Actors Guild Awards and Golden Globes for these performances, with Davis bringing home the Golden Globe as Best Supporting Actress earlier this week. If both actors are not nominated for Academy Awards, it would be a serious upset. In this piece, both of these fine actors reveal their incredible skills, as well as their ability to hold back and conceal certain parts of their characters. There is a quiet restraint in this film that is absolutely riveting.
It is rare to see such fine actors working on such crucial material at the pinnacle of their careers, and both Washington and Davis knock it out of the park. This is a movie that audiences won’t soon forget after walking away. There is a spiritual element that runs through it, a constant reference to Saint Peter’s pearly gates that one can’t fully comprehend until the film has concluded. It is a testament to Wilson’s talent that this play holds up as well as it does, and Denzel Washington—who also directs—makes a masterpiece out of the movie as well.
Those who love the play will also enjoy the film, which has added to the impact of the material without taking anything away. In a world that is so full of overwrought performances in film, Fences is an incredible piece of succinct art that will continue to affect people for as long as they can watch movies.