That’s the peculiar aspect about adapting a minimalist period piece for film. If you decide to stretch it to a bigger scope, you can ruin its integrity. But if you keep it small scale, its intended purpose seems redundant. For all things considered, Director Denzel Washington’s drama, adapted from the August Wilson stage play, is a great display of powerhouse performances from an ensemble cast. But it’s mainly that, and really not much else when all is said and done..
Every payday, garbage collector Troy holds court in the backyard of the Pittsburgh home he shares with his wife, Rose (Viola Davis) and their son, Cory (Jovan Adepo). As the evening progresses, Troy is sometimes joined by his eldest son, Lyons (Russell Hornsby), who borrows money, or his disabled war veteran brother, Gabe (Mykelti Williamson), who has just moved from Troy’s home seeking independence. Life is a series of routines culminating in death. Every payday brings Troy Maxson closer to his wrestling partner he knows as Death.
“Fences” is a fine film. Its flaws keep it from being nothing more than a showcase for its cast. It works in brief moments as a stellar display of a top notch ensemble, all of whom lend their immense passion to their characters. Washington and Davis are particularly good as the aging couple looking for a means of breaking out of their daily doldrums. They’re both people that have reserved themselves to submitting to their fates. Troy works every day, comes home for a drink, and life goes on. But when Rose seeks something new or different, the rift is created instantly.
“Fences” is a verbose and often hypnotizing period piece where Washington is pushed front and center and thankfully never shies away from depicting Troy as a flawed man. As I mentioned, he’s someone that’s committed himself to his fate, and now he’s simply waiting to battle it out with death. Before he does that, he has to battle with his legacy, including his son Cory, who greatly dislikes him. The movie fails to instill the timeless ode to the working man and the struggles of the working class, but that doesn’t hinder the film’s momentum very much.
Washington is impressive; he belts out monologues like a dancer in his prime, and he leads some of the very best with Adepo as his son. The inevitable clash between father and son, and their laying all the cards out on the table is not only a struggle to cement his legacy, but perhaps the invitation for change. Troy craves a changing of pace and environment, and he tempts fate leading in to the pretty emotional battle. All that’s left is Death. The death of the future. The death of hope. The death of greener pastures. And the death of trust. That is if it ever has the gall to step over his fences.