There is hardly a moment watching Fences that you forget it’s an adaptation of a play—in this case August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize-winner about a cantankerous trash collector in 1950s Pittsburgh who is chafing against the restrictions he faces as a black man in mid-century America. As director, Denzel Washington does little to “open things up,” and when he does move the camera it’s often in an awkward position. But as an actor, he’s a force. His Troy Maxson is supposed to be a larger-than-life presence, and Washington yammers and roars right from the start and rarely lets up. It’s entertaining, until Troy’s darker sides begin to show (something Washington portrays with equal gusto) and the story turns tragic. Viola Davis—who performed onstage opposite Washington in a 2010 revival—matches him moment for moment as Troy’s wife, Rose; there is a thrill in watching two actors in roles so familiar that they wear their parts like a second skin. Washington makes Troy fully human—particularly during the showdowns with his athlete son (Jovan Adepo)—while also giving him the stature of a generational archetype. This is a man whose entire world, from his domestic relationships to his economic opportunities, exists in a tug-of-war between the Civil War and Civil Rights.
The Fate of the Furious
Genuinely hurts to think about this without Paul Walker