Recently, I had the opportunity to see an advance screening of Fences. To say that I was excited about this opportunity is an understatement. I have been a fan of August Wilson’s writing for over two decades, so to see one of his plays, my favorite in particular, come to the big screen is exciting.
Fences is a story that revolves around Troy Maxson, a sanitation worker in Pittsburgh in the 1950s. Troy was a storied baseball player who finds his dreams unrealized as he is too old once the Major Leagues finally start accepting black baseball players. This unfulfilled dream eats at him and though he strives to be a good family man, his demons drive him to actions that threaten the stability of his home.
Fences is a character driven story. What captivates the audience is the way in which Troy tries to navigate his life to provide for his family. He is a man with a sense of responsibility to his wife, to his son, and to his brother. He strives to do right by them and, in turn, desires to be respected by all with whom he interacts.
Troy’s character is a composite of the real life Josh Gibson (who is actually named in the film) and the fictional Willy Loman. He is gifted with skill, knowledge, and experience. He is tormented by ghosts in his past and a glass ceiling that prevented him from his glory days as a baseball player in the Major Leagues and provide hurdles in his role as a sanitation worker. He is a proud man who is willing to grapple with Death (though Rose, his wife, will say that’s a lie), file an official complaint with a white supervisor for the ability to drive a truck, and confront anyone who threatens the order of his home.
Fences is a story about fatherhood – it’s impact on generations, it’s flaws, it’s hopes, it’s responsibilities, it’s vulnerabilities, it’s pressures, it’s temptations, it’s joy. It’s a story about family, love, regret, understanding, and loyalty. There’s a jarring dichotomy about Troy – he is so strong, yet so fragile.
It is story about friendship, pride, and respect. It’s a story in which you watch a man trying to construct a fence, literally and metaphorically, to protect his family from the perceived ills of the world. However, the function of the fence comes into question as Troy’s friend Bono recognizes, “Some people build fences to keep people out, and other people build fences to keep people in.”
Denzel Washington and Viola Davis light the screen on fire with performances that range from humor to humility, from strength to utter desperation. It’s rare that you can couple a script that swaths such a wide range of the common man’s (and woman’s) human experience with a talented cast that paints the emotions so clearly that you can taste the motivation and essence of each character’s being.
To me this was my most anticipated film of the year. Yes, even more so than another film that opened this month. There is something about August Wilson’s ability to stare into the soul of humanity and capture it in prose on a page. And under the direction of Denzel Washington, this cast makes those words jump off the page, brings the characters to life, and grabs you by all the strings of the heart.
Fences opens everywhere on December 25th. Do yourself a favor and go see it.