Bethlehem Press

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Movie Review: ‘Fences’

Friday, February 17, 2017 by PAUL WILLISTEIN pwillistein@tnonline.com in Focus

“Good fences make good neighbors.”

- Robert Frost,

“Mending Wall”

“Fences,” the film version of August Wilson’s 1987 Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning play is set in Pittsburgh circa 1956 where Troy (Denzel Washington, who also directs), is a municipal garbageman and former Negro League baseball player standout.

Troy and his wife, Rose (Viola Davis), have a son, Cory (Jovan Adepo, TV’s “The Leftovers,” 2015-17, in his theatrical feature debut), who excels at academics and football in high school and is being scouted for a college scholarship.

Troy has a son from a previous marriage, Lyons (Russell Hornsby, TV’s “Grimm” 2011-present), an aspiring jazz musician.

Troy’s younger brother, Gabe (Mykelti Williamson, who played Bubba in “Forrest Gump,” 1994), is a person with a disability resulting from a World War II wound.

Troy’s longtime friend is Jim (Stephen McKinley Henderson, “Manchester by the Sea,” 2016).

Troy is embittered by not ever making it to Major League Baseball. He had served time for a murder during a robbery for which he was arrested.

There seems to be no redemption for Troy, save for the “Old Blue” song he sings about a departed pet dog, despite Gabe’s delusional rant to open up those Pearly Gates with the sound of a beat-up trumpet that he can’t even play.

Troy is hell-bent on making life miserable for those around him, especially his son, Cory, who he “rides” hard. “You got to take the crookeds with the straights,” is Troy’s life view.

The title, “Fences,” is derived from a wooden fence that Troy is building along one side of the backyard of his brick single home. He never seems to get around to completing the fence. “Some people build fences to keep people out ... and other people build fences to keep people in,” Jim observes.

August Wilson’s “Fences” is filled with keen observations couched in colloquial language. The film, which is “opened up” only slightly from the play, is really a series of monologues, sprinkled with dialogue between the main characters. There are baseball metaphors galore. Often, the words spoken and emotions expressed are tough to take.

Washington (Oscar recipient: actor, “Training Day,” 2001; supporting actor, “Glory,” 1989) gets excellent performances (he directed “The Great Debators,” 2007, and “Antwone Fisher,” 2002) from the actors, including himself.

Washington put on some pounds for the role and isn’t embarrassed to reveal a potbelly and flabby physique. With salt and pepper hair and beard and unshaven but neat look, Washington, who received a Tony Award as Troy in the 2010 Broadway revival, embodies a shell of a man whose bark is worse than his bite. Washington makes use of his overbite to deliver the cutting words even as his eyes display deep sadness and his body stoops under the weight of resignation.

At the film’s core is the remarkable Viola Davis (Oscar nominee, actress, “The Help,” 2011; supporting actress, “Doubt,” 2008), who received a Tony as Rose opposite Washington in the 2010 revival. As Troy’s long suffering, but strong and faithful wife, Davis brings a marvelous presence, dignity and heart to the role. She’s a first lady of her home, successfully delivering several pivotal scenes in what is a devastatingly great performance.

Director of Photography Charlotte Bruus Christensen (“The Girl on the Train,” 2016) often keeps the camera up close, especially with Washington and Davis.

The soundtrack by composer Marcelo Zarvos has lovely piano music and songs that evoke the era (“Day by Day” by Little Jimmy Scott, heard during a montage).

With four Oscar nominations, Best Picture, Leading Actor (Denzel Washington) Supporting Actress (Viola Davis), Adapted Screenplay (August Wilson, who died in 2005), “Fences” is a must-see for movie and theater buffs. Don’t forget your tissues. If kudos were in tissues rather than popcorn boxes, this would be four hankies.

7“Fences,”MPAA rated PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned. Some Material May Be Inappropriate For Children Under 13) for thematic elements, language and some suggestive references; Genre: Drama; Run time: 2 hrs. 19 mins.; Distributed by Paramount Pictures.

Credit Readers Anonymous:“Fences” was filmed in Pittsburgh utilizing Pennsylvania film tax credits. Playwright Tony Kushner (Pulitzer Prize, 1993, “Angels in America”) complected Wilson’s screenplay, but is listed as a co-producer.

Box Office,Feb. 10: The animation family feature, “The Lego Batman Movie,” put together a No. 1 opening weekend, with an impressive $55.6 million, one week, keeping the steamy sequel, “Fifty Shades Darker,” settling for No. 2, with an impressive $46.7 million, one week, and keeping Keanu Reeves’ “John Wick: Chapter 2,” opening at No. 3 with a solid $30 million, ending the three-week No. 1 run of “Split,” dropping to No. 4 with $9.3 million, $112.2 million, four weeks;

5. “Hidden Figures,” three Oscar nominations, $8 million; $131.4 million, eight weeks; 6. “A Dog’s Purpose,” $7.3 million, $42.5 million, three weeks; 7. “Rings,” $5.8 million, $21.4, two weeks; 8. “La La Land,” record-tying 14 Oscar nominations, $5 million, $126 million, 10 weeks; 9. “Lion,” six Oscar nomination, $4 million; $30.3 million, 11 weeks; 10. “The Space Between Us,” $1.7 million, $6.5 million, two weeks.

Unreel,Feb. 17:

“The Great Wall,”PG-13: Director: Yimou Zhang directs Matt Damon, Tian Jing, Pedro Pascal and Willem Dafoe in the fantasy film about defending the Great Wall of China against a horde of monstrous creatures.

“A Cure for Wellness,”R: Gore Verbinski directs Jason Isaacs, Mia Goth, Adrian Schiller and the Lehigh Valley’s Dane DeHaan in the thriller about a young executive sent to rescuer a company CEO from a “wellness center” in the Swiss Alps.

Four Popcorn Boxes out of Five Popcorn Boxes