Denzel Washington. There are very few people in existence who can give a monologue like him. But he might have met his match, at least for this film, in the form of fellow Oscar winning actress Viola Davis. Like Denzel, Viola can shine even in mediocre films. The two sensational performers join forces as Denzel steps behind the director’s chair to adapt August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize winning play.
Fences stars Denzel as Troy, a 53 year old former Negro League baseball player struggling to make ends meet as a garbage man with his wife, Rose (Davis), in 1950’s Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Together, they navigate Troy’s struggles with his mentally handicapped brother (Mykelti Williamson) and his rocky relationship with their teenage, athlete son (Jovan Adepo) and Troy’s illegitimate, musician oldest son (Russell Hornsby). As an original play, the film is low on thrills, but heavy on drama and emotion. The movie itself feels very much like a play and with that comes the pros and cons of most stage play to movie adaptations. The movie is long and very slow, but dragging moments are lifted by the sheer power of the two leads.
To no surprise, Washington and Davis are both brilliant in their performances. Washington is both charismatic and emotionally jarring. His scenes with Jovan Adepo provide some of the best dialogue on film. But when the real drama sets in toward the end of the film, Viola Davis takes the lead as the most magnetic person on screen. Her portrayal is filled with the soulfully endearing passion that makes her the hero of the entire narrative.
If you go in knowing that the film will be methodical then the sluggish pacing won’t be nearly as off-putting. Filled with magnetic monologues from not just Davis and Washington, but every major player, Fences is a movingly poignant story of African American culture in the 1950’s that is beautiful to witness. And I can die happy knowing that two of the best in the business were able to bring it to life.
FINAL GRADE: A-