Review: Little things have a mighty power in Denzel Washington’s Fences

Denzel Washington plays Troy Maxson and Viola Davis plays Rose Maxson in Fences. Picture: Paramount

Denzel Washington plays Troy Maxson and Viola Davis plays Rose Maxson in Fences. Picture: Paramount - Credit: PA

He directs and stars in the interpretation of August Wilson's play, made magnificent by both his and Viola Davis' acting.

Fences (12A)

***

After three decades as a major actor and movie star Denzel Washington has decided to indulge himself by directing a film record of one of his stage triumphs – his 2010 performance in a revival of August Wilson's Fences, effectively the black American equivalent of Death of a Salesman.

His approach to filming the play is effectively to keep it as stagebound as possible. Watching the film you can see what the set was like on stage, where each acts would end and, with a little imagination, the curtain coming down between them.


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Troy (Washington) works the garbage trucks in Pittsburgh with his buddy Bono (Stephen McKinley Henderson) and every Friday night after getting paid they will drink a bottle of gin in the backyard of the house that he shares with his wife Rose (Davis) and he will tell stories about the past, and how he could've been a great baseball player if it hadn't been for the colour bar.

The marriage is strong but the relationships with his sons is strained by him projecting his own frustrations onto them.

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It is, of course, a big old bunch of yakking and speechifying and in places all a bit hokey. It is all in the rhythm of the language of everyday speech but when they get to one of the big emotional showdowns and Troy starts trying to explain himself in long winded baseball metaphors you might despair of it all.

In one sense it is a long time watching very little, but as the minutes move past, as the scenes change and we pass down through the years, the little loads up a mighty cumulative power.

The acting is ultimately the thing, and Washington is, of course, magnificent, though not necessarily any more magnificent than he is playing a cop, or a bank robber or a heroic train engineer.

Opposite him, Viola Davis is more than a match for him and in their big emotional showdown she doesn't just open up the waterworks but lets loose with the nasal snot production line too.

She is very precious about her phlegm; she won't be spraying it around in Suicide Squad, she reserves it for films of plays.

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