Viola Davis's soulful performance as a '50s wife taken for granted is the main reason to see this otherwise stagy adaptation of August Wilson's play.
Denzel Washington brings all the gestures, small and large, that animated his Tony-winning turn as August Wilson’s seething patriarch to this sincerely wrought onscreen version. It’s a Fences hemmed in by tradition. Unfortunately, the performance—as big as it gets—is all wrong for the movies, where even a declamatory, self-aggrandizing character like Troy Maxson, a former Negro Leagues star ballplayer turned ’50s Pittsburgh garbageman, needs to be scaled back to feel realistic. As it stands, you can hear it even if you’re in the theater next door seeing Rogue One.
Washington’s uniformly excellent cast, however, does better cowering in the man’s shadow. The more time we spend in the company of quietly concerned neighbor Jim (Stephen McKinley Henderson) or Troy’s beaten-down wife, Rose (Viola Davis, an undeniable force of dignity in a role she owns thoroughly), the more we can appreciate the sensitivity the star-director brings to the project. Wilson’s play, about dreams deferred and a son seeking approbation (The Leftovers’ Jovan Adepo), could have used a more cinematic rethink. But even flatly presented, it has a richness of rage that’s unmistakable.
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Cast and crew
Stephen McKinley Henderson