Monday, January 2, 2017

Movie with Abe: Fences

Directed by Denzel Washington
Released December 16, 2016

A number of films are based on plays, and often the film version takes advantage of cinematic opportunities to augment its plot that are not available on the stage. These can be used to showcase additional scenery and backdrops, while monologues that feature direct addresses to the audience don’t usually translate well to the screen. Strong performances that truly flesh out characters are present in both, and when actors who have played a role on stage return to reimagine the same role in a movie, the result is always interesting. In the case of “Fences,” star Denzel Washington steps behind the camera to direct a powerful, involving, and compelling film version of August Wilson’s play.

Troy Maxson (Washington) is a very traditional husband and father in the 1950s, working hard as a garbageman in Pittsburgh. He comes home from work each day and regales his colleague Jim Bono (Stephen Henderson) with stories of the many things he has worked for that Jim has already heard him tell numerous times as he jokes with his loyal wife Rose (Viola Davis) about everything he does for her. Through conversations with his two sons and his brother (Mykelti Williamson), who suffered a serious brain injury in war, Troy comments on the world he lives in and what makes a person respectable, revealing plenty about who he really is and the time he inhabits.

Washington is a tremendous actor who has won two Oscars, each for very different performances. His role as a soldier in “Glory” was full of passion and determination, while he was an intimidating, terrifyingly calm corrupt cop in “Training Day.” Here, in a role that will certainly earn him another Oscar nomination, he displays an incredible command of each scene as he shares his every thought and opinion with those around him, set on being heard whether they want to listen or not. He effectively builds and unpacks Troy as a character in his portrayal, and he’s well-matched by Davis as the wife who usually shakes her head and laughs off his rantings but sometimes stops to speak up for herself in particularly intense and memorable moments. Henderson, Williamson, and Russell Hornsby, as Troy’s older son, contribute strongly in the supporting cast in this long but deeply engaging film that doesn’t make too much additional use of its cinematic potential but tells a thoroughly worthwhile and lingering story nonetheless.


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