Fences (B), the movie directed by and starring Denzel Washington based on the play by August Wilson, is a work of profound acting and themes. It’s a treasure to have the celebrated piece of theatre documented as a film, but Washington as director missed some opportunities to steer it into fully satisfying or cinematically creative territory. For those unfamiliar with the story, it’s a bittersweet 1950s family drama about a larger-than-life Pittsburgh sanitation worker (Washington), his wife (the luminous Viola Davis) and the siblings, friends and children who live in the shadow of the man of the house. In a time and place in need of heroes, Washington’s character – living on the downward slide side of a minor baseball career – hits the harsh ceiling of his promise and struggles with how to successfully channel his charisma into effective relationships. Washington is in full command of his acting craft with a non-self-conscious portrayal of a man who is often hard to love. Wow, he is a mighty actor! Davis also masters a showy role as a long suffering spouse and does a delightful slow burn coming into her own. The film is best viewed as a showcase of impeccable performances; and the drama is deeply affecting. The subject matter presents challenges to “open up” since it is largely staged in a home and a yard. While the choice not to expand beyond this vista is true to the work, it also feels a bit stifling. The film is certainly recommended and is sure to get tremendous recognition for its heartfelt subject matter and characters.
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