Quick Hit: Terrific acting that encompasses the poetry of dialogue from a prize-winning play.
Fences opens with Denzel Washington, playing Troy Maxson, riding along on the back of a garbage truck with his best friend Bono (played by Stephen Henderson). Both men are comfortable working, but both are also comfortable talking while doing so, particularly Troy. Therefore, when the camera follows them home after collecting their pay in 1950s America, you bounce along with the flow of dialogue. As Fences falls into its most used setting, the Maxson’s backyard, you begin to see a picture of who Troy is. He’s a loud man, a large man (not necessarily physically large), and an exceptionally proud man.
After we are introduced to some of the other characters, such as his wife Rose (Viola Davis), his two sons Cory and Lyons (Jovan Adepo and Russell Hornsby, respectively), we begin to see a bit more about Troy. This man isn’t perfect and doesn’t pretend to be. He dwarves the people in his life with his drive and personality, often times making them angry, upset, and rebellious. But even when Troy is at his most despicable, the film makes it impossible to hate him.
I say the film, but really, it wouldn’t be anything without Mr. Washington’s performance. He delivers the dialogue (which I’ll expand upon in a paragraph or so) with gusto and a lyrical, hypnotic delivery that allows every word to wash over you. It’s evident that this came from a play – monologues of this prevalence rarely exist in films these days. It’s even more evident that Mr. Washington has played this character before (he won a Tony as Troy) – he embodies him like slipping into a second skin.
Outside of Denzel’s performance, all the other acting is terrific. Ms. Viola Davis (who is positively the best snotter in film) delivers the monologue that Troy truly deserves during one heart-wrenching scene. It’s along with this, and her solid acceptance of Troy as who he is, that causes the film to be such a wonderful experience. If Troy is the tree itself, Rose is the sap that breathes life into the branches and leaves of the tree. Bono, who is always attempting to leave, is believeable in a way that few side characters are. And as a son who once had it out with his father, Cory’s confrontation with Troy hits home with every, single blow.
In particular, I’d also like to highlight someone who’s performance I was conflicted about when I first saw the film. That’s Troy’s brother Gabriel, a young man who was mentally handicapped in the war. As soon as he came down the street, proclaiming “You betta get ready for the judgment” – I knew that voice. It’s none other than Bubba from Forrest Gump (still on my top films after all these years) (Mykelti Williamson is his actual, God-given name). At first, I couldn’t separate Gabriel from Bubba because they seemed so similar. But as the movie continued, I saw an earnestness in Gabe that I don’t think Bubba was around long enough to bring from the film. Another way that I thought of it was in a great film crossover – Gabe is simply Bubba if he had come home from the war – or maybe, if you want to extrapolate and theorize, maybe Gabe is a distant relation of Bubba.
I said I’d come back to the dialogue, and I always try to hold fast to my promises. I can’t say enough how perfect the dialogue is in this film. It’s raw – in some places vulgar, but the thing that is so right about it is how real it is. Storytelling is something I’ve always enjoyed, and it’s evident that Troy does too. This is a man who has been telling story’s since he was with that little girl on the edge of the creek – some of them true, and some of them exaggerated, but all of them entertaining, even when they are at their most uncomfortable.
I can’t say enough about this film. I thought it was terrific. I’m giving it an “A”.
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"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"