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With: Denzel Washington, Viola Davis, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Jovan Adepo, Russell Hornsby, Mykelti Williamson, Saniyya Sidney
Written by: August Wilson, based on his play
Directed by: Denzel Washington
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for thematic elements, language and some suggestive references
Running Time: 138
Date: 12/25/2016

Fences (2016)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Opening 'Fences'

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

For his third time out as director, Denzel Washington adapts August Wilson's 1987 play, which he performed on Broadway in 2010. It's a prestigious production, with Wilson — who died in 2005 — getting sole screenwriting credit, and with the play's Tony awards and Pulitzer Prizes hovering over everything. Yet, when it begins, it quickly creates a vivid, interior world of garbage collector Troy Maxson (Washington).

Troy comes home on a Friday with his best friend Bono (Stephen McKinley Henderson), shares a bottle of gin, and complains about wanting to be a driver. He talks about his old baseball days and about money and whatnot, always with strong defiance. His long-suffering wife Rose (Viola Davis) puts up with him, his shell-shocked brother Gabriel (Mykelti Williamson) occasionally causes trouble, and he dishes out tough love to his football-playing son (Jovan Adepo). But Troy is also keeping a secret, which is about to blow up in his face.

The movie's simple design, mostly involving a backyard, with its uneven flagstones, and its baseball hanging from a tree, works nicely, lending a three-dimensional, 360-degree space that opens up the material. Washington can't completely keep Fences from seeming like a play, and the performances are on the large side, but they're of an extremely high quality, and emotionally rending. Wilson completed a cycle of ten plays before his death — each set in a different decade — and Washington has announced his intention to film all of them.

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