"Staged Patriarchal Bombast"
What You Need To Know:
Viola Davis is great in FENCES as Rose. Mykelti [pronounced “Michael T”] Williamson is brilliant as Troy’s brother. The only acting that’s a bit off is Denzel Washington, who delivers a stereotypical performance. There’s an important story here that speaks to African American fathers and families, but FENCES is so stagey and extreme that whatever morality story it had to tell is lost in the story about a bad dad. Ultimately, FENCES is depressing and sleep inducing.
(C, LLL, VV, SS, N, AAA, D, MM) Light Christian worldview with references to Jesus and a wife who goes to church focusing on a self-made, tyrannical father who abuses his wife, family and friends; 66 obscenities (usually the “n” word) and four profanities; man beats up son and threatens him with a bat, man has temper tantrums breaking and destroying things, brother has a plate in his head from fighting in World War II, and verbal attacks; lots of discussions about sex, man commits adultery, other woman dies in childbirth, Christian wife shuns her husband after the adultery; upper male nudity; very extreme alcohol use where woman tells husband that he’s going to drink himself to Hell; smoking but no apparent drug use; and, lying, demeaning sons and other negative behavior.
Based on an acclaimed play by August Wilson, FENCES is a slice of life stage play about a bombastic patriarchal father and husband, who makes everyone miserable to extol his own virtues. The movie has some good direction and acting but is ultimately exhausting and depressing, with lots of foul language and other crude references.
Troy is a garbage collector with a chip on his shoulder in the mid 1950s. In the beginning, he’s challenging his company as to why none of the drivers are African American. Everyone tells him he’s gonna lose his job, but Troy is a fast talker who always thinks he’s right. His best friend and fellow garbage collector tells Troy he’s got to stop hanging with another woman at the bar after payday because he has a great wife named Rose.
Troy’s son from a previous marriage comes to borrow $10 from Troy so he can continue to support his dream of playing in a jazz group, but Troy makes him feel small and miserable. Troy finally gives Rose the money to give to his son.
Troy and Rose’s son, Cory, is being scouted to play football at a major university. Troy had been a great Negro League baseball player and is resentful he was never able to get into the majors. Out of envy, he goes behind his son’s back to tell the high school coach his son doesn’t want to be scouted.
Troy gets the woman at the bar pregnant, but she dies in childbirth. Troy gives the baby to Rose to raise. Rose has become a stronger and stronger Christian. She says she’ll take the baby but never wants Troy in her bed again. When Cory tries to defend his mother, Troy beats him up. Troy also takes financial advantage of his disabled brother, who was wounded in World War II and is incapable of thinking clearly. His brother has found a room he can rent, but to get at his money, Troy puts his brother into an asylum.
In other words, Troy is one bad dude, probably representative of many African American fathers in Writer August Wilson’s mind, and his dialogue is carefully crafted so that his selfish, tyrannical ways almost make sense. There is some indication of redemption after his death, but it’s never shown in the movie.
Viola Davis does a great job as Rose, and Mykelti Williamson [pronounced “Michael T”] is brilliant as Troy’s brother. The only acting that’s a little bit off is Denzel Washington. His stereotypical poses are almost like Warren Beatty’s in his own passion flick of the season, RULES DON’T APPLY. Both these movies are too biographical for their own good.
There’s an important story at the heart of FENCES that speaks to African American fathers and families, but the movie is so stagey and extreme that whatever morality story it had to tell is lost in the story about a bad dad. Ultimately, it’s depressing as well as sleep inducing, which is too bad because Denzel Washington has done really good work in previous movies.