By Wilson Morales
Coming into the 2016 year and with so much talk on the #oscarsowhite that occurred during the Oscars last March, if you happen to be film business or read enough about the industry, you had to have had a sense that it wouldn’t be the case this year once Fences started its film production.
After all, this is a film adaptation of a beloved Pulitzer Prize-winning August Wilson play that has won Tony Awards both times (1987, 2010) that appeared on Broadway. That 2010 production netted Best Acting awards for its lead performers (Denzel Washington and Viola Davis), who are reprising their roles in the film version. Also coming back are Stephen McKinsley Henderson, Russell Hornsby and Mykelti Williamson. The major difference is that Washington is handling the directing duties instead of Kenny Leon. It’s Denzel’s third time behind the camera after 2002’s Antwan Fisher and 2007’s The Great Debaters.
Well, the transition from stage to screen went as smooth and better than expected. Not only is this film a Master Class of acting for many, but both Washington and Davis are poised to win Oscars for the third and first time, respectively. Along with them, the ensemble cast are so good that any of the other males, including newcomer Jovan Adepo can also land a nomination.
Set in Pittsburgh during 1950s, Washington plays Troy Maxon, a former Negro League baseball player, who’s still upset that he never got his shot in the big leagues and has to settle being a hard working garbage collector and supporting his wife of 18 years Rose (Davis) and teenage son, Cory (Adepo). Along with having daily conversations and drinks with his friend and co-worker Bono (Stephen Henderson), Troy often has to take care of his mentally challenged brother Gabe (Mykelti Williamson), who no longer lives with him but gets arrested at times. Gabe was wounded during WWII and survived with a metal plated in his head. He hasn’t been the same since, but it’s his war money that Troy used to buy his house.
Although he’s too old to play, Troy blames society and racism on impedinng his baseball potential and doesn’t feel Blacks will never get their shot; which is why he and Cory butt heads when it comes to sports. Cory’s being recruited to play football at a university but Troy thinks Cory doesn’t need to believe in those dreams. Then there’s Lyons (Hornsby), Troy’s first son from a previous relationship. A jazz musician who doesn’t look for work, he’s always around on Fridays to ask dear old dad for money and as reluctant as Troy is to give it to him the money, Ruth (as the holder of Troy’s cash) comes through for him. Between going to work and thinking he’s about to be fired, he also has to deal with other personal issues that he can’t control its outcome.
The acting from this ensemble cast is aces acrosss the board. Washington has played many flawed characters in his career but in playing Troy Maxson, he took his acting to another level. To play the hard earning patriarch who’s emotionally conflicted by race and injustice, Washington pulled out all of his acting techniques we haven’t seen in some time. As his equal, Davis is the best actress of her peers right now. Aside from her TV show, How To Get Away With Murder, if anyone ever saw her in Doubt, The Help, World Trade Center, and Get Rich and Die Tryin’, whether her roles were big or small, she’s a force to be reckon with. From the minute the trailer showed a few seconds of her and her running nose standing up to Denzel’s character, one just had to know they would be in for a treat.
It’s just not these two giant actors who make Fences such a pleasure to watch, it’s also the rest of the cast. August Wilson’s script gives everyone the chance to showcase their best work on screen. As someone who starred in a number of August Wilson’s play, it’s great to see Stephen McKinley Henderson bring that same tender, voice-of-reason best friend trait to the big screen. From Derek Luke in Antwon Fisher to Nate Parker in The Great Debater, Washington knows how to spot a talent on the rise, and he’s found another in Jovan Adepo. As Cory, Adepo is the lion ready to roar and when he finally confronts his father over a number of issues, it’s the scene that will net more work in the future.
The play was the hardest ticket after Washington and Davis won Tonys along with the play itself. With this film being perfectly adapted, the rest of the world will get to see what this stellar cast brought to the stage. Fences is a family melodrama that’s well executed from start to finish.
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