“Fences” is based on the stage play by the renowned playwright August Wilson. Denzel Washington takes on the task of not only directing this intensely powerful production, but starring in it as well. In an interview with the co-stars, Jovan Adepo (Cory) and Stephen Henderson (Bono), Washington and Wilson began working on this screenplay many years ago. Wilson, who passed away in 2005, wrote the screenplay and approached Washington to bring this to the silver screen. As H
enderson stated, “We wanted to be as true to August as possible…and by Denzel because he was being honorable to August.”
“Fences” is about family, relationships, and breaking cycles. Taking place in the racially volatile 1950’s, Troy (Washington) works as a garbage man in the city of Pittsburgh with his best friend Bono (Henderson). At the end of the week, with not a penny to spare, Troy comes home to his adoring, hard-working wife and teenage son. There’s an air of tension among the characters as Troy and his buddy wax and wane prophetic, drinking a bottle of booze in the backyard where much of the film takes place. There’s a live theater feel to this film as the camera pivots gracefully around to capture the robust dialogue and soliloquies. We see Troy become quite the story-teller, the more liquor he ingests. His wife, Rose (Viola Davis), calls him out on his exaggerations, and the bond between the two is b
eautifully evident. But life isn’t just a bowl of cherries and we know this family will reveal its true colors.
The story brings us back to a time when the men wore the pants in the house and children were to be seen and not heard. While we initially see a great amount of care and love between Rose and Troy, we quickly learn that there is a certain amount of fear as well. This is evident as we meet Cory (Adepo) who wants nothing more than to gain his father’s approval, but as Troy attempts to steer his son in one direction, Cory rebels, reaching a limit and wanting independence more than approval.
The script and performances are remarkably powerful, almost intoxicating, as we discover each of the characters thoughts, desires, and heartbreak. Each exquisitely written line, verbal exchange, and emotional oration breaks through the tough exterior to reveal the complexities and commonality among us all. We travel life’s journey with Rose, Troy, Bono, Gabriel, and Cory. We feel what they feel, and as they cry, we cry. But there is laughter too…it is a true slice of life, allowing us to see the raw and brutal side of us all.
Adepo and Henderson both conveyed that there is easily a part of them in their characters. Adepo, a young actor, given “…a once in a lifetime opportunity,” said, “I had my own idea for how I wanted to live my life…Me and my dad may not have had a shared concept, but it’s a conversation I think is important for every young man and his father to have. That’s just a part of becoming a man. I can definitely relate to Cory in that sense.” Henderson, a seasoned actor of both stage and film, found that as he gave advice to “Troy,” he brought a regret of a love lost from his own past. “I realized I could use that for a genuine nature…I know from what I speak.” He continued, “It allowed me to really know just how true August’s words were.”
This story easily one of the most poignantly astute portrayals of human nature brought to the screen with the utmost of care and originality. The small, but extraordinary ensemble cast creates a bond with the audience that cuts you deeply and changes how you see the world and those near you. Davis, Washington, Adepo, and Henderson all shine brightly giving us the performance of a lifetime as they explore a myriad number of social and personal issues and witness the impact of their actions and reactions.
The end will leave you speechless, but as Henderson revealed an event that occurred in the final scene, you will have an even greater appreciation for Washington honoring and staying true to Wilson’s script and message. Henderson shared that the gate in the fence, built to keep people out as well as keep people in, opened and closed by itself in the final scene. “That’s the most fortuitous and spiritual event..,” Henderson said. When you witness this and see the cast’s reaction, this is truly something special. As Adepo said, “You can’t fake that.”
“Fences” is a brilliant masterpiece perfectly transported from the stage to the screen. With powerful performances and adept direction, it’s an emotionally raw film that reminds you that “you gotta take the crooked with the straights.”
4 Stars (I’d give it 10 more, if I could)