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Denzel Washington Returns To Directing In Fences

Updated on December 31, 2016


Troy Maxson likes to think of himself as the man of the house, as well as the king of his castle. In Fences, Troy (Denzel Washington) works as a sanitation engineer in 1950s Pittsburgh who always reminds his wife Rose (Viola Davis) and 17-year-old son Cory (Jovan Adepo) who pays for all they have. In addition to Rose and Cory, Troy provides for his brother Gabriel (Mykelti Williamson), a disabled World War II vet who lives with a neighbor. His older son Lyons (Russell Hornsby), whom Troy did not father by Rose, is a struggling musician who keeps asking for loans while Troy awaits any sort of repayment. When Troy learns that Cory, who plays on his school's football team, hasn't kept up with responsibilities to his liking, he has the boy removed from the football team, and costs Cory a shot at a college scholarship.

Troy, though, doesn't always back his talk with results. He complains to his union about the segregation of work assignments, and wins his grievance with a promotion to driver. He confesses to his good friend and fellow trash collector Jim Bono (Stephen McKinley Henderson) that he never learned how to drive. Soon, Rose and Cory discover how much of the talk from Troy is just talk. They see the actions behind the words are anything but consistent, and each makes a decision about their future under that roof.


Years ago, August Wilson wrote a screen treatment for his play, which won both Pulitzer and Tony awards. However, before his death in 2005, he stipulated that the film had to be directed by an African-American. For the first time since directing The Great Debaters in 2007, Washington takes control behind the camera. The first half shows Troy and his struggles, while the second half shows other truths about his life. Fences paints a vivid picture of life in a time before the Civil Rights Amendment came to be. Rose keeps reminding Troy their lives have seen some improvement, but he keeps dwelling on the past, in which he believes that he missed the chance to play baseball in the Major Leagues, in spite of his advanced age. He also believes in the adage that his home is his castle, and its occupants are subject to his rules and beliefs. In this movie, Washington fleshes out the characters better than he had in either The Great Debaters or Antwone Fisher. The story of struggle is familiar, but Washington lets viewers see the two sides of Troy - the service worker on the clock and the self-appointed leader off it.

Washington, Davis, and Henderson first played their roles on stage, and bring that familiarity to the screen. The role of Troy marks one of Washington's best performances. Troy may want what's best for his family, but he also wants what he wants. It doesn't matter to him if he omits facts or doesn't see a point of view that isn't his. He knows his role as father and husband comes with responsibility, but Troy also acts as if he should have certain entitlements. He tells Cory to watch out for himself, as Troy himself demonstrates through his actions. Davis shines as the housewife Rose, a woman whose patience is constantly tried by Troy. She tries to defend Cory and Lyons, but Troy has already made up his mind about his sons. Yet, she remains stronger than Troy seldom realizes or appreciates. Henderson is wise as Bono, who's known Troy from their youthful days down south. He knows Troy as a co-worker and drinking buddy, and he knows that Troy flirts with danger. Williamson adds solid support as the disabled Gabe, who tells everyone he's chasing away hellhounds and always carries a trumpet that almost never works. Adepo and Hornsby are also very good as Troy's sons who refuse to live by Troy's expectations.


The movie's title refers to a fence that Troy builds around his house. Those who know him well wonder if he builds it to protect those inside, or protect from others on the outside. Some might wonder if Troy might not be exactly like that if he were to live in this day and age. Without a doubt, Mr. Maxson is a complex individual who somehow feels he should have something go his way. Everybody feels that, especially in a life where the bad breaks far outwiegh the good ones. Some might feel that the way he treated his sons and wife is tough love, but he sometimes has a problem seeing the difference between sufficiently tough and too tough. In Troy's world, though, he has built a fence in his mind where nothing ever changes. It Troy Maxson versus the world in this place.

On a scale of zero to four stars, I give Fences 3.5 stars. Protection under construction.

Fences Trailer


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    • profile image

      Pat Mills 12 months ago from East Chicago, Indiana

      Thanks Mel. I recommend all three of his theatrical films where he directed.

    • Mel Carriere profile image

      Mel Carriere 12 months ago from San Diego California

      I like Denzel, and I hope to get a chance to see his directorial handiwork. Great review.