It’s never easy to take material meant for a different medium and turn it into a successful motion picture. Video games, board games, television shows, and plays have all been the basis for films in the past, but in the case of the latest stage to silver screen adaptation, August Wilson’s Tony Award winning “Fences”, it’s as close to perfect as any film adaptation can be.
Directed by and starring Denzel Washington, who won a Tony Award of his own playing the same leading role in the 2010 stage revival of the show, “Fences” tackles the complex relationships among members of an African American family in 1950’s Pittsburg as they struggle with identity, racial inequality, and their own inner demons with Washington’s troubled Troy Maxson at the center of it all.
Many of the actors from the 2010 stage show return along side Washington including Viola Davis as Troy’s wife Rose, Stephen McKinley Henderson as Troy’s good friends and coworker Jim Bono, Russell Hornsby as Troy’s oldest son Lyons who was conceived from a previous relationship, and Mykelti Williamson who plays Troy’s brother Gabriel who suffered a life altering brain injury in World War II. Jovan Adepo rounds out the cast as Troy’s youngest son Cory and the young Siniyya Sidney also plays a role that, for the sake of avoiding spoilers, will not be revealed in this review.
With a small cast of characters and talented actors, many of whom were familiar with the source material, it’s no surprise that not only is “Fences” amazingly well acted, each actor presenting a genuine and believable portrayal of their characters, but the story is perfectly portrayed right down to the setting and locations chosen for the narrative to take place. Washington is a major standout in this film in a truly award-winning portrayal of the Maxson family patriarch, Troy, who is scarred by how racial segregation and prejudice has sidelined many parts of his life, specifically his baseball career, and whose issue with his own home life as a child have bled into his relationships with his sons. Violas Davis, as always, is tremendous as Maxson’s wife Rose with a spot on portrayal of the struggles of values, dedication, and gender roles in the home especially as conflict begins to creep its way into her marriage. Hornsby and Adepo are outstanding as Maxson’s sons, each walking a different line contrary to their father’s wishes for their future, bringing the dysfunctional family full circle and helping flush out the subtleties of Troy Maxson’s character as his mental state deteriorates over the course of the film. Mixed into the story is the symbolic building of a fence that, as the story progresses, becomes a representative of the characters longing to keep the family together or shut people out.
Overall “Fences” is a spectacular drama. It’s only shortcoming is that much of the film relies on dialogue and rather clunky exposition that, while vital on the stage, sounds more out of place on the silver screen especially when the cast gives such a convincing performance that makes it seem like the details fleshed out in Troy Maxson’s life stories should already be common knowledge among these individuals, but even this is covered up nicely by the “wild storyteller” trope as characters continuously accuse Troy’s stories of becoming more and more glamorized each time they are told implying they’ve heard it all before. With a script and setting that tackles extremely delicate themes and a truly complex and ever changing family dynamic, “Fences” shows how storytelling should be handled and proves to be a great example of how outside source material can make a truly great film in the right hands.
With a great cast, a relatable story for almost anyone struggling with the world seemingly being stacked against them, and a spot on interpretation of a very well respected story, “Fences” is not just a good film it’s an absolutely great film. Smooth in pace, brave enough to tackle controversial and powerful issues, and surprising effective in its subtle approach to family dysfunction and inner demons, “Fences” is a film that will make you think and maybe even make you feel a bit better about your own life in the process.