Fences seems barely changed from its theatrical production. The only difference maybe a set instead of a stage, and maybe one or two extra roles, which certainly don’t act like filler.
Troy (Denzel Washington) | Rose (Viola Davis) | Gabriel (Mykelti Williamson) | Mr. Bono (Stephen Henderson) |Lyons (Russel Hornsby)
When a boy is forced to become a man at 14, his life is basically trial and error. Such is the case with Troy Maxson. This boy, one of eleven, left home ventured out and only found trouble. Made a baby in the process, found a woman after he paid his debt to society, and then was on the straight and narrow. However, men get old. Women get old too. There comes a point where find yourself looking around at all you have, all you have obtained through purchase or loyalty, and ask is it enough? Is it enough to have a wife and two healthy boys? Is it enough to have a husband, a good relationship with your stepson and a healthy one with your own? Is it enough to have a girl who sticks by you and a dad who, after giving you some lip, will loan you money. Is it enough to have both parents in the house if one seems to treat you like an obligation when it comes to caring for you? We are told fences are made to keep things, or people, in or out. But it may just be possibilities too we are trying to keep at bay.
Though initially upset by the idea of Viola Davis not going for the Best Actress nominations, with her role basically being part of softening and redeeming Troy, it makes sense for her to go for Best Supporting Actress. Even if she is the only woman we ever see.
Though over two hours, with things mostly focused just on Troy and Rose, featuring some comic relief from Gabriel and Mr. Bono, this is a tight production. In fact, based off not having the privilege of seeing the play when Davis and Washington were in it, you could argue this is almost as direct of an adaptation you could get. There is no extra fluff, some spare characters whose place don’t seem like they were in the original blueprints. Everything which needs to be a part of this story to tell it right, it’s here, well oiled, and in working order.
With that said, let’s talk about the two main characters. Now, prepare for theatrical dramatic/comedic monologues a lot. Nearly half the time Washington speaks it isn’t to have a conversation but to express the inner workings of Troy. Why Troy acts the way he does, why he did this stupid thing, him explaining why he wasn’t in his oldest son’s Lyons’ life. In many ways, his role seems like it is straight from the stage, nothing changed but now he doesn’t have to turn to the audience but just look in the camera. But, as much as he may get dramatic and bring tears to your eyes, maybe even think of the relationship you have with your own father if it isn’t some ideal sitcom type, he is funny too. Though there ain’t a review for it here, it reminds me of watching Joe Morton in Let Me Loose. For every sob story, there is a joke somewhere in between. Reminding you things have gotten somewhat better since then so no need for your pity. While things may still look hard, and certainly Troy may not have a white man’s privilege, at least he isn’t out on the streets homeless and alone.
As for Davis, oh boy. I question sometimes when actors talk about being intimidated by the presence of another. Could it be that serious? Yet, as Davis performs against Washington, you begin to understand an actor’s fear. Hell, a writer’s fear of doing this woman justice. For while I can’t recall a single role when Davis wasn’t playing someone who is suffering, that is her bread and butter. So, with that, seeing her go against Denzel and really make it seem she has him on the ropes. The man who this play is centered around, it was something. She made you tremble as that one snippet about how Rose has been standing there with Troy gets expanded. As you come to terms with your own standing in life. What compromises you make for certain relationships to continue and how there has to be a point where you got to wonder if it is a compromise or have you given yourself over and only gotten the other person’s burdens in return. Burdens you have no idea what to do with besides try to untangle only to find the other person makes knots after you thought you were done.
A small thing I think worth noting is Gabriel. Like Rose, she is what helps humanize and shape Troy. But, separate from Troy, it is also nice to see a character like Gabriel who maybe simple, but he is not stupid. For while, at times, he seems like a comic relief, it is through him we get some of the most touching moments. Especially the ending.
A film which makes you think, reflect, and feel. I don’t feel like I watch enough of those. So when films like this come along, it is like cleaning your palate. It is like, being reminded of what a quality drama can be, and how from the old to the young, it isn’t unfair to expect every character to make an effort to not just connect with you but to make you feel something. Now, I might not have cried like I thought I would, but damn if this doesn’t put some perspective on your life, maybe your daddy’s life, and make you contemplate on your way home what you going to do about your life.