• James Rutherford

'Fences': A Powerful Drama About an African-American Family's Tribulations in 1950's-Era America


Movie poster for the film Fences starring Denzel Washington and Viola Davis

Fences (2016) is a powerful and resounding American drama starring Denzel Washington as Troy Maxson, a blue collar sanitation worker residing in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in the 1950s. Living alongside his wife Rose (Viola Davis) and son Cory (Jovan Adepo), Troy is dependent upon the government pension provided to his younger brother Gabriel (Mykelti Williamson) to cover the family's cost of living.


Allotted a monthly pension after suffering a head injury in World War II, Gabriel resides with Troy and his family for a time before moving in with a kindly female companion across the street. Without Gabriel's monthly rent, the family faces newfound financial hardship that inflames familial tensions—with Troy's first son Lyons (Russell Hornsby) adding to the calamity when he comes asking for money from his father. A prideful man of often erratic convictions, Troy balks at this request, just as he chafes at the notion of his son Cory pursuing a career in professional football. Indeed the storyline revolves in large part around Troy's frustrations and egotism, as he holds his own failures over the heads of those nearest and dearest to him.


Adapted by August Wilson from his own Pulitzer Prize-winning play and directed by Washington, Fences is a profound and expressive depiction of the African American experience in the mid-20th Century. Washington and Viola deliver tour de force performances as the aggrieved couple, desperate to locate their own sliver of the American Dream, despite an onslaught of obstacles and limitations. A remarkable showcase of the two leads' extraordinary acting chops and an admirable stage-to-screen adaptation, it's a deeply intimate and emotionally commanding cinematic achievement.

 

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