“Fences” [DVD + Digital Copy] [2017] – Fenced in

This is my review of Fences [DVD + Digital Copy] [2017].

Retaining the script and staged quality of the original theatre play, but capturing in its street scenes and domestic interiors the atmosphere of 1950s suburban Pittsburgh, this film revolves around Troy, the garbage collector with some understandable but mighty chips on his shoulder: only white men are allowed to drive the vans which he has to ride hanging on to the open back, and his glory days as a baseball player occurred when the teams were segregated. One may admire his rash persistence in claiming the right to work as a driver, but will he be satisfied if he obtains it? Is his harsh treatment of his younger son the result of a brutal upbringing which denied him a good role model of how to be a father, or has he fallen prey to jealousy of the boy’s easier path to becoming a successful footballer? He clearly loves his wife, willingly handing over his pay cheque each week, but can he resist the temptation to betray her, and will he acknowledge and take responsibility for his weakness? At times, he shows great compassion for the pathetic brother injured in battle, but has he taken financial advantage of him?

The garden fence which Troy never quite gets round to completing is the metaphor for the barriers he erects in his life. Troy is clearly a complex, flawed man, so is he fated to sink into self-destructive failure or achieve some ultimate positive resolution?

Although I understand why Denzel Washington hoped for an Oscar in his demanding part, dominating the screen in virtually every scene, I found it hard to catch all the meaning of his passionate rants. By contrast, most of the strong supporting actors were very clear, notably the elder son who had suffered his father’s neglect, and the long-suffering wife, played by the brilliant Viola Davis.

I agree with reviewers who feel that, although well-directed and acted with realism, the play itself, the intense, emotionally draining work of August Wilson, a kind of black Arthur Miller, leaves one feeling a little disappointed, I think because it makes its points early on, promises much in the build up, but tails off, losing its dramatic punch at the end.

⭐⭐⭐⭐ 4 Stars

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