FENCES — Review by Susan Granger

0 Flares 0 Flares ×

Adapting a Broadway play for the screen is always a challenge – one that Denzel Washington found daunting, particularly since August Wilson’s iconic chronicle of a dysfunctional family is a Pulitzer Prize-winning glimpse into the essential African-American experience. Set in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, during the 1950s, it revolves around the relationship between a bitter, Negro League baseball player-turned-sanitation worker, 53 year-old Troy Maxon (Washington), and his long-suffering wife Rose (Viola Davis)

They’re joined by Troy’s best friend/co-worker Bono (Stephen Henderson), rain-damaged brother Gabriel (Mykelti Williamson) and adult son Lyons (Russell Hornsby) by another woman. Their current conflict concerns Troy and Rose’s teenage Cory (Jovan Adepo), who’s hoping for a football scholarship.

When we first meet hyper-talkative Troy, he’s riding on the back of a garbage truck in the Hill District, complaining to Bono that only whites get to be drivers, sitting in the comfortable cab, while blacks do the heavy lifting, lugging the trash cans.

Although “Fences” opened on Broadway in the 1980s, the movie version was delayed since Wilson was steadfast in his insistence on an African-American director.

In 1987, when Eddie Murphy wanted to transition into serious roles, Paramount Pictures bought the rights for more than $1 million, then a staggering price for a theatrical property. But that never panned out, nor did other plans, particularly after August Wilson died in 2005.

Following Wilson’s poetic, still-relevant text like “a holy spirit,” as a director Denzel Washington elicits insightful, intelligent, nuanced performances from his acting ensemble but – with action primarily restricted to the yard of a two-story brick home – it’s visually claustrophobic, not cinematic enough to disguise its theatrical origins.

Which means there’s a seemingly insurmountable emotional barrier between players and viewers, while the fence epitomizes not only Troy’s deprivation of a chance in the major leagues but also his inability to empathize with his wife and son.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Fences” is a formidable 8, featuring authentic, award-worthy performances.

0 Flares Twitter 0 Facebook 0 0 Flares ×

Susan Granger

Susan Granger is a product of Hollywood. Her natural father, S. Sylvan Simon, was a director and producer at R.K.O., M.G.M. and Columbia Pictures; her adoptive father, Armand Deutsch, produced movies at M.G.M. As a child, Susan appeared in movies with Abbott & Costello, Red Skelton, Lucille Ball, Margaret O'Brien and Lassie. She attended Mills College in California, studying journalism with Pierre Salinger, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with highest honors in journalism. During her adult life, Susan has been on radio and television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic. Her newspaper reviews have been syndicated around the world, and she has appeared on American Movie Classics cable television. In addition, her celebrity interviews and articles have been published in REDBOOK, PLAYBOY, FAMILY CIRCLE, COSMOPOLITAN, WORKING WOMAN and THE NEW YORK TIMES, as well as in PARIS MATCH, ELLE, HELLO, CARIBBEAN WORLD, ISLAND LIFE, MACO DESTINATIONS, NEWS LIMITED NEWSPAPERS (Australia), UK DAILY MAIL, UK SUNDAY MIRROR, DS (France), LA REPUBBLICA (Italy), BUNTE (Germany), VIP TRAVELLER (Krisworld) and many other international publications through SSG Syndicate. Susan also lectures on the "Magic and Mythology of Hollywood" and "Don't Take It Personally: Conquering Criticism and other Survival Skills," originally published on tape by Dove Audio.