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VUE REVIEWS: Fences – Denzel Washington's best display since Training Day

Denzel Washington and Viola Davis give juggernaut performances that will grip you by the stomach and churn at will in this August Wilson adaptation.

By Chris Edwards

Troy Maxson (Denzel Washington, who also directs) is a garbage collector in 1950's Pittsburgh. Every payday, he sits in his backyard and, with the creative stimulation of half a bottle of gin, spouts highly improbable stories about how he beat Death in a fight. He's embittered about the lack of opportunity for black people and he's got plenty of witticism-filled homilies to express his frustration. Basically, this is the most Denzel Washington role ever.
Denzel Washington and Viola Davis are a powerhouse duo, one that doesn't need a change of setting or even a great deal of movement to emotionally ruin you.
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He's certainly had time to perfect the performance, having played the character seven years ago in the Broadway production and winning Best Actor at the Tonys. The same can be said for Viola Davis, who played his wife Rose on stage (also picking up a Tony) and now reprises the role for this big screen adaptation. Together, they're a powerhouse duo, one that doesn't need a change of setting or even a great deal of movement to emotionally ruin you.

Without a conventional plot, Fences is more a tale of legacy, with Troy bemoaning the way he's been treated by his father and a white-dominant society. Ironically, his alcohol-fuelled rants and refusal to accept change is causing his son Cory (Jovan Adepo) to resent him in the exact same way.
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Rose, however, is the emotional house of cards supporting the entire family. Even when she's struck with devastating news, she remains sturdy, wanting to keep everyone together at all costs. When Troy's friend Bono (Stephen Henderson) remarks, "Some people build fences to keep people out, and some people build fences to keep people in," it becomes apparent that the film's title is just as much about her.

Why you should see it on the big screen

Because watching an unaltered stage play in film-form makes for an incredible cinematic experience.

Fences is not so much adapted from August Wilson's play, but rather left untouched, picked up and planted right in front of a camera. It's almost entirely set in Troy's house and backyard, with very little in the way of physical action. Naturally, that means it's a dialogue-heavy affair, but that only makes it more impressive that it's still able to grip you by the stomach and churn it at will. By playing out exactly as it would on stage, it becomes a truly unique cinematic experience, with nothing to distract from the mammoth performances.

This is Washington's best display since his Oscar-winning turn in Training Day, while close-ups of Davis's face reaffirm her credentials as one of the best criers in the business.

 

Why it's relevant

While it draws more attention to the issue of diversity, it also focuses on the groundless reasoning in which people resort to racial hatred.
 
Of its many themes, Fences is primarily concerned with legacy and the inevitability of death. But it’s also one of the most culturally relevant films you’ll see this Oscar season. It brilliantly flips expectations, presenting Troy as the one who can’t see past his hatred, prejudice and social conditioning. Even when his family tries to tell him that black people are now integrating and being accepted by society, he refuses to believe it. He’s built too many fences.
 

Fences is out 17th February; get times and tickets here.