December 21, 2016

Denzel and Viola Co-Star in Adaptation of Prize-Winning Play

In 1987, Fences won both the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the Tony Award for Best Play. The August Wilson classic, set in Pittsburgh in the 50s, described the day-to-day struggles of a blue-collar African-American family. The production was brought back to Broadway in 2010 and it received Tony awards for Best Revival — and for Denzel Washington and Viola Davis as the Best Actor and Best Actress.

Directed by Washington, the movie reunites Denzel with Viola and most of of the principal stage cast, including Mykelti Williamson, Stephen Henderson, and Russell Hornsby. The faithful adaptation of the Wilson masterpiece doesn’t attempt to amplify the original beyond a few tweaks that were made for the filmed version.

The story is about the trials and tribulations of Troy (Washington), a 53-year-old garbage man who aspires to being promoted to the position of truck driver. Unfortunately, he’s “colored,” and that position has, to date, been filled by whites. So, Troy and his co-worker Bono (Stephen Henderson) have to settle for grumbling about the racism that has kept them from advancing in their jobs.

Troy didn’t always have such modest dreams. In his youth, he’d exhibited promise as a baseball player. However, his hope of becoming a pro disappeared when he was convicted for committing a murder. He did try out for the major leagues when he was paroled at 40, but that proved to be an exercise in futility.

As a result, Troy takes to whiskey, that he drinks straight from the bottle. Rose (Davis), his long-suffering wife, is understandably worried that he will drink himself to death. The picture’s other pivotal characters include the couple’s teenage son (Jovan Adepo), Troy’s adult son (Hornsby) from his first marriage, and Troy’s mentally challenged brother, Gabe (Williamson), a wounded World War II veteran who has a metal plate in his head.

The plot thickens when Troy informs Rose that he has a mistress who is pregnant. Will this be the last straw that breaks the back of their shaky relationship?

Denzel and Viola deliver emotionally-provocative performances that will probably get them Academy Award nominations. The movie paints a plausible picture of black life in the inner city in the 50s.

Excellent (****). Rated PG-13 for profanity, ethnic slurs, mature themes, and sexual references. Running time: 138 minutes. Distributor: Paramount Pictures.