28 December 2016


A conflicted moralist of duty is how I would characterize Denzel Washington's portrayal of Troy Maxon in the film adaptation of August Wilson's play Fences. Like a stage-play, the film version of Fences has relatively little action but plenty of heart-felt (and fierce) dialogue. Denzel Washington's performance was exceptional and while he didn't carry the film alone (Viola Davis was also superb), his work was superb and merits an Oscar nomination.

Authenticity is an overworked term (and meaningless as a virtue) but is appropriate to describe the hard and angry as well as dutiful and caring Troy Maxon. Growing up without a mother under the brutal oppression of a sharecropping father, leaving home aged 14 unable to read, being born "too early" as an African-American to play major league baseball, fathering a son by a woman who left him after he went to prison, working hard--very hard--after his release to provide for his wife and second son but straying and fathering a daughter by another woman who then died in childbirth, all combine to reveal an "authentic" character. While the particulars of Troy's life ring true to the world of many African-Americans, his resolve to succeed--and his failures--are consistent with Americans of all ethnicities.

A few bits of dialogue didn't ring true and the ending seemed a bit Oprah-esque but Fences nonetheless fairly depicts the hard times and hard life of a hardened man, and the hard effects he had on those around him. By turns a supportive and philandering husband, a loving and conniving brother, a good friend, and a caring but unloving father, like so many American men Troy Maxon resists reliance on all resources but his own. He faces death squarely and he goes down swinging but without hope.

Fences is an excellent film that because of its language could perhaps be rated R but should nonetheless be seen by many.

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