Pulitzer Prize winning play of the same name, Fences is notable more for its impressive performances than plot. Denzel Washington, who does double-duty as both lead actor and director, does all that he can to make the stage play fit the big screen but there's little doubt what venue the story is best suited. As a film the story certainly works, but I wonder how much better it may have appeared on stage.
The talky script, adapted from the stage by playwright August Wilson, offers a slice of Americana in a low income area of Pittsburgh where former Negro League baseball player turned criminal turned garbage man attempts to make the best of the life he's carved out for himself. The small cast focuses on Troy's (Washington) relationships with close friends and family including his wife Rose (Viola Davis), son Cory (Jovan Adepo), troubled brother Gabriel (Mykelti Williamson), and best-friend Bono (Stephen Henderson). The more we learn about the outwardly charming Troy the less we like him. Troy is a bully, alcoholic, adulterer, and an all-around son of a bitch. The film's first hour is a slow boil under the which pressure continues to rise until it boils over when the conflict between Troy and his family comes to a head.
While snagging the lead role for himself, Washington (in possibly his most unlikable role to date) is nonetheless upstaged by Viola Davis who delivers one of the year's best performances. The pair make the movie a must-see. Adepo has a harder time being his father's emotional punching bag while avoiding appearing whiny on film. He succeeds, but the film suffers a bit in not showing us a single example of Troy's love for his son to balance the back of his hand (which he's all to willing to offer). Staying true to the play's ending, the film's final moments leave you with an honest, but not altogether satisfying, message about generational differences between fathers and sons, relationship issues between husbands and wives, and the question of forgiveness - be it earned or not.