Fences

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I have to pat myself on the back. I’m happy to say that, over the past 40 years, I’ve been able to see a movie or a play and just KNOW that an actor is heading for stardom. In 1981 I went to see a film called “Carbon Copy,” which featured George Segal as a white man who learns that he has a black son. Making his debut as said son was a young man named Denzel Washington. And while I found the film funny I left the theatre with my friends praising the young Mr. Washington. I was able to meet him a few years later in New York City and I told him how I had singled him out for stardom. He was very appreciative of my comments. So much so that, when he spelled my name wrong on the photo I asked him to sign (he put the “e” before the “a”) I didn’t have the heart to correct him. Thirty-five years since I first discovered him, Denzel Washington is at the top of his game in a film he also directs called “Fences.”

Troy Maxson (Washington) is the typical working man of the 1950s. Monday through Thursday he goes to work, does his job and comes home. Friday is pay day and he repeats his daily routine, only on Friday he gives his pay to his wife, Rose (Viola Davis). Troy also likes to drink. At one time a great baseball player in the Negro Leagues, Troy is too old now to play in the recently integrated Majors. This makes him angry. He watches as he and Rose’s son, Cory (Jovan Adepo) builds a successful high school football career but sours on the notion of allowing him to get a scholarship to college. He insists that Cory learn a trade, not rely on sports, to support himself. But there is more going on with Troy then meets the eye.

Both Washington and Davis won Tony Awards for their work in “Fences” on Broadway and it’s easy to see why. Like a play, the two actors banter back and forth for two acts. Act one is all Washington…all braggadocio and swagger. As the film progresses we begin to learn more about Troy through his older, first son Lyons (Russell Hornsby), a musician and Troy’s older brother Gabriel (Mykelti Williamson), a mentally unstable casualty of World War II. Both Hornsby and Williamson give strong, well defined performances. In his film debut, young Mr. Adepo more than holds his own against the veteran Washington. Act two belongs to Davis, whose unquestioning trust of Troy is tested through no fault of her own.

Working with a screenplay by playwright August Wilson (“Fences” is the third of ten plays written by Mr. Wilson which explore the life of Black America in the century of the 1900s.), Washington crafts a fine film as a director, opening up the once stage set drama and giving each actor a place to share their story.