Monday, December 26, 2016

"Fences" Overcomes Separation Anxiety From Its Source Material With Powerhouse Acting


Stage to film adaptations can be very tricky. Sometimes, they can feel like you're watching a filming of the stage play. It can allow the adaptation to be faithful to the source material but it can also be to its own detriment because the adaptation doesn't feel distinctive. Fences does feel like you're watching a filming of the stage play but that is overlooked once you absorb the amazing acting from its cast.

Fences is based on a play by August Wilson about a former Negro baseball player named Troy Maxson, played by Denzel Washington, who works as a garbage man after he was deemed too old to play baseball professionally. After Troy's son Cory gets recruited to play college football which'll allow him to succeed where Troy couldn't, tensions start to emerge between him, Cory, and his loyal wife Rose, played by Viola Davis.

The film hinges entirely on not just the words of August Wilson, who wrote the play and gets a posthumous credit on the screenplay, but Denzel Washington's brilliant performance as Troy Maxson. Through his never ending dialogue and body language, Washington is able to channel the different dual layers to his character. He'll be imposing and brutish one minute and then reveal a piece of his tragic backstory in a more somber manner. I would say this is Washington's best and most complex work in years and he helps the film that has about a 2 hours and 10 minutes, move at a fast pace. Only a true movie star is capable of pulling that off.

But while Denzel Washington may be the bigger star of the show with more screentime, it is Viola Davis' movie as much as it is his and she steals every scene she is in. Davis is flawless as Troy's wife who always puts up with his mouth and erratic behavior. Sometimes in a joking and wistful manner, allowing her and Washington to have initial playful chemistry. But it eventually starts to haunt her after a big reveal that takes place. I won't reveal what it is but during the reveal, Davis has a raw and volcanic buildup that gives you chills up until she finally bursts. During that buildup, she exudes such power with just her eyes and even her tears.

The other actors also do an amazing job. Stephen Henderson, who plays Troy's closest friend Bono, provides moments of light banter between him and Washington while acting with his eyes to contradict to Washington's verbal histrionics. Jovan Adepo holds his own against his veteran co-stars as Cory, the son trying to carve out his own path to escape his family, breaking free of both the literal and metaphorical "fences" holding him back. Russell Hornsby and Mykelti Williamson, who play Troy's eldest son Lyons and disabled brother Gabe, respectively, are also terrific.

So Fences is mostly an acting showcase that may be limited by its familiarity with the stage but still overcomes that with its strong acting across the board as well as by the words of August Wilson who is the mastermind behind the play itself.

Grade: A-