Fences movie full length review - This story would have been better off staying on the Broadway side of the fence.
Fences. They can be used to keep people out or to keep people in. Or both. And they don't have to be about people at all. Fences can help keep pets in? or keep out prying eyes? or even keep out something more nebulous.
That's where fences start to become less physical reality and more allegory. We often build metaphorical fences between other people and ourselves? and even within our own minds, as a way of separating ideas, memories or aspects of our personalities that cannot peacefully coexist. Many of these scenarios play out in the drama "Fences" (PG-13, 2:18). The film is based on a play by the late August Wilson and is the sixth play in his 10-part "Pittsburgh Cycle". The play "Fences" won a Pulitzer Prize and a Tony Award in 1987, with original Broadway cast members James Earl Jones and Mary Alice winning individual Tonys, and Frankie Faison and a 17-year-old Courtney B. Vance earning nominations. A Broadway revival in 2010 won Tonys for the play and for its two leads, Denzel Washington and Viola Davis. Yes, "Fences" has been a very successful play, but it falls short in its transition to the big screen.
The setting is an African-American neighborhood in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Both the 20th century and main character Troy Maxson (Denzel Washington) are both in their mid-50s. Troy is a strong man ? both in his body and in his demeanor. He works as a trash collector, but wonders aloud why only white men get to do the driving, while black man are always relegated to lifting the garbage cans. And that's not the only racial issue that preoccupies Troy. He had been a star in the Negro Leagues before World War II, but never made it to the majors. In spite of Jackie Robinson and others breaking down barriers in professional baseball, Troy is convinced that he didn't get a shot because of the color of his skin. At least, that's the story he tells when talking with his long-time best friend and co-worker, Jim Bono (Stephen McKinley Henderson). Troy's wife, Rose (Viola Davis), injects herself into Troy's most recent trip down Glory Day Lane, saying that Troy isn't playing major league baseball because of his age.
Troy and Rose have been married for 18 years and are very much in love. It shows in their playful banter, their public displays of affection and their steadfast commitment to one another. They have a son together, a 17-year-old named Cory (Jovan Adepo), who is a star high school football player and is being recruited to play college ball. Troy also has a son from his first marriage, a man named Lyons (Russell Hornsby), who is a struggling musician and sometimes stops by Troy's house to borrow money (and has to put up with Troy's criticisms before getting the money he needs). Troy is also dealing with his mentally-challenged younger brother, Gabriel (Mykelti Williamson), who suffered a head injury in the war and now roams the streets "chasing hellhounds", sometimes personally visits Saint Peter at the Pearly Gates, and always carries a trumpet, slung over his shoulder by a rope, so he's always ready to tell Peter when he needs to open those gates. Troy's life isn't an easy one, but he makes the best of it.
Troy is more of a talker than a doer. He does what he needs to do to care for his family, but has a hard time going beyond what's necessary when it comes to expressing emotions like love and acceptance. He's very good at telling people how to live their lives, but doesn't always live up to his own ideals. As Troy might say it (if he were criticizing someone else), he's good at the plate when he's psyching out the pitcher, but not so good with his follow through. For example, it takes him a very long time to build a fence that Rose wants around the yard. Both physically and metaphorically, Rose wants the fence to keep people in, while Troy eventually completes it to keep people out ? including the grim reaper which Troy talks about as if he were a person, one with which Troy has done battle in the past ? and will again.
"Fences" is wonderfully acted, but too talky to be an excellent film. The characters and the story in the original play are engaging and Washington's direction brings all that onto the big screen very successfully, but he chooses not to take it further. For example, he unnecessarily limits himself to too few locations in telling the story, references characters which he never shows and talks about incidents which we never see. Plays and movies each show us what they can in their own way. Movies can show the audience more, but this one fails to take advantage of that? advantage. However, this story does us all a service in shedding light on the seldom examined 20th century African-American experience and giving us characters to which many Movie Fans can relate ? and learn from ? regardless of racial divides. I just wish Washington had used his impressive cast and his chosen medium to tell the story with less talk and more vibrancy. In spite of this movie's award-worthy performances, this story would have been better off if, rather than the Hollywood side, it had stayed on the Broadway side of the fence. "B-"