Screened Out – Fences

By : Stephen Miller
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Denzel Washington, Viola Davis, Jovan Adepo, Stephen Henderson

If we’re to believe his stories, Troy Maxson could’ve been one of the greatest American baseball players ever. Unfortunately, he was born to early, and he had to play the Negro League, while white players stirred people’s praise. Sports segregation laws stole Troy’s glory from him.

By the 1950s, Troy is an old, bitter Pittsburg garbage man. So, he can only watch as younger men capture fame and break down racial bias. Sure, Troy has a dutiful wife, a loyal best friend, and a son who only wants his father’s approval and love.

Troy also has a fence around his own backyard and a baseball on a string. That baseball represents Troy’s dream. He was never able to hit it over the fence. No one ever cut the string.

Jovan Adepo portrays Cory, the long-suffering son of Washington's Troy Maxson.

Jovan Adepo portrays Cory, the long-suffering son of Washington’s Troy Maxson.

Finally, Troy has his gin – fair medication for the pains the man has suffered.

So every weekend, Troy (Washington) drinks and pitches tales of his salad days. His wife Rose (Davis), best friend Bono (Henderson), and son Cory (Adepo) listen. Sometimes, Troy gives Cory lessons. Cory has skill and wants to prove himself, so he takes after his dad’s love of baseball.

In 2010, Denzel Washington ably portrayed Troy in August Wilson’s famous, Pulitzer Prize winning play. Davis tore it up as his partner Rose. And because of all this power, Broadway sold out before a lot of people could even think to buy a ticket. Subsequently, the actors and this revival won a slate of well-deserved Tony Awards.

In this movie version, Denzel directs himself and Davis, knowing not to mess with a good batting lineup. Still, this flick doesn’t do much to open up from the stage. Sure, some of it is more detailed – the grit, the poverty. And yet, one gets the sense that seeing these performances onstage, live, and just a few feet away might be devastating and life changing in ways film cannot capture. However, Wilson’s beautiful, poetic words and the actors’ brilliant performances still make Fences mesmerizing, thought provoking, melancholic, and finally joyful.

August Wilson is now considered on of America's greatest playwrights.

August Wilson is now considered on of America’s greatest playwrights.

It sure is wordy stuff. Most of the time, movies are made of showing us events. Fences spends a lot of time telling us. However, the good news is that Wilson is rightfully gifted with words, like other great American playwrights – O’Neill, Miller, and Albee.

Throughout Fences – every weekend in that scrabbly, claustrophobic backyard – Troy is obsessed with his legacy. Coincidentally he sees it only as his baseball career. What he misses is that his marriage has its own legacy. And especially he cannot accept that his son may have more chances and talent than his old man.

Ratings Key

See it now! Buy the DVD! Quote lines at parties!

Definitely worth the price of admission

It’s useful as a distraction

Maybe if someone else pays and you need a nap

Slightly worse than eternal damnation

What makes a man like Troy? And what makes him so embittered? Secondly, is it fair that that’s all Troy feels? Finally, can he move beyond it?

Finally, everyone here is worth watching and listening to. But Davis…as Rose, she has me feeling no one else should ever try to take up the role ever again. There’s a reason she got an Oscar nom – so did Washington and the film. However, there’s a bigger reason she’s going to win. That’s legacy.

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