Denzel Washington is on grandstanding form as director and star of this powerful adaptation of August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play Fences set in late-1950s Pittsburgh, one part of an epic ten-play cycle chronicling, decade by decade, the African-American experience in the 20th Century.
He’s playing to the crowd, which is just right for his larger-than-life character, Troy Maxson, a onetime Negro Leagues baseball player turned garbage collector and domestic tyrant. Racism thwarted his sporting career. And when he isn’t regaling anyone at hand with tales of his former exploits, he’s taking out his frustrations on his nearest and dearest, notably his long-suffering wife Rose (Viola Davis) and his youngest son, Cory (Jovan Adepo).
There’s undoubtedly something stagy about the film. Washington makes little effort to open up the action that much beyond Troy and Rose’s house and garden, and the play’s symbolism – conspicuously the fence of the title – seems more than a tad clunky. But these flaws barely detract from the film’s impact. The acting is terrific. Washington has the measure of the yarn-spinning Troy’s jazzy verbal riffs, with their lyrical cadences and hypnotic rhythms, but it’s the slow burning, Oscar-winning Davis who knocks the ball out of the park.
Certificate 12. Runtime 139 mins. Director Denzel Washington
Available on Blu-ray & DVD from 12 June.