Poster for Fences

Denzel Washington directs and stars in this powerful screen version of August Wilson’s 1983 play about an unhappy working-class African-American family in 1950s Pittsburgh.

“Patriarch Troy Maxson (Washington, The Great Debaters) is a garbage collector who once had a shot at sports stardom in the Negro League. After that, he never got the right breaks because of segregation and ended up serving prison time for murder in self-defense. Concealing his deep rage behind a bombastic, boisterous, hard-drinking demeanor that keeps his friends bemused and wondering what he’ll do next, Troy has some dark secrets festering inside. Troy’s wife Rose (Viola Davis who received the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role; Doubt) has stood by him through the highs and lows of his disappointing life for 18 years of a marriage that is beginning to show cracks in the marble. Now, their teenage son Cory (Jovan Adepo) is in line for a football scholarship, which annoys Troy so much that it brings out the inner furies and regrets he’s been hiding through the years.

Troy not only wants to prevent his son from becoming the same kind of failed athlete he once was, but he’s also keeping a secret from Rose—a mistress who is about to give birth to his illegitimate child. Tensions mount, personalities clash, and when the loyal, long-suffering Rose finally explodes, the screen trembles with her passion.

In the best ensemble work of the year, other characters who roam in and out of the Maxson house are Lyons (Russell Hornsby), Troy’s 34-year-old son from a former relationship, a musician who badly needs financial help for his own family; Troy’s brain-damaged brother Gabe (Mykelti Williamson), a World War II veteran with a metal blade in his head; and Bono (Stephen McKinley Henderson, Manchester by the Sea), the loyal buddy who listens tirelessly to Troy’s jokes and tirades and seems to be a permanent fixture at Rose’s dinner table.

The glue-all that keeps them together is the confident star, in one of the most demanding and triumphant roles of his career. The action centers on the house and backyard, where he bullies everyone around and spends his spare time building a fence to close off the outside world. The fence is a metaphor for all the fences that surround every character in August Wilson’s world. After years of procrastination, if the fence is ever completed, Wilson implies the other fences will mend themselves.” (Rex Reed, New York Observer)

“Denzel Washington delivers a leo­nine, devouringly powerful performance as one of American theater’s most imposing patriarchs in Fences, a classic of contemporary dramatic literature that has finally received a respectful, often stirring, adaptation for the screen.” (Ann Hornaday, The Washington Post)

“Though every performance is splendid, it’s Washington and Davis who create a mesmerizing symphony of emotion, finding both love and tragedy in every look, every line.” (Moira Macdonald, The Seattle Times)

“Washington delivers not only one of the year’s best performances, but one of the best self-directed performances in cinema history.” (Mick LaSalle, San Francisco Chronicle)