Review: Denzel Washington and Viola Davis swing for the ‘Fences'

'Fences' is a 130 minute acting showcase for Denzel Washington and Viola Davis. That's what it is, that's what you'll be hearing critics say about it and that's what most of you will gather once the credits start rolling in this powerfully ambitious epic adapted for the screen from August Wilson's stirring play, by Wilson himself no less, which also stars the play's original leads, Washington and Davis. 

You will also be hearing people complain that the theatrics are intact and that it does not feel cinematic. I would agree with that as well. In trying to adapt Wilson's play, director Denzel Washington was going to fall into the trappings that have bogged down past talky adaptations to the screen such as "Closer" and "Doubt." That's fine and it comes with the ambitious territory of trying to make theatrics come alive in a cinematic way. 

'Fences' might drag at times, but the heart and soul of Wilson's play is not lost. No thanks to Washington who plays Troy, an African American father struggling to raise his family in the 1950s, but also not able to come to terms with his personal life and the inner demons still lurking from a failed baseball career. He is married to Rose, a lovely, loyal woman, as played by an Oscar-bound Viola Davis. Rose gives Troy many free passes in life, maybe one too many, but she accepts what she has and feels satisfied by her situation. Much of it having to do with their high-school son Cory (Jovan Adepo) being such a succesful student and athlete. Cory and Troy don't get along, and it is with those scenes, between Adepo and Washington, that the film's true fireworks come out.

Marriage, poverty and the struggles between father and son are tackled in Wilson's play and the treatise is competently rendered by Washington in an un-stylized way. You can tell Washington and Davis know their parts front and back, they live and breathe their characters and flesh them out just enough to let them roll on a cinematic level.

The film is episodic with some of the passages encompassing enormous power, but others feeling strained and forced in their delivery. It is in the powerful scenes that Washington gains his stride and ensures his film is, at the very least, watchable and faithful to August Wilson. There really was no other way around the flaws, especially if you wanted to do Wilson (who wrote the screenplay) primal justice. This is a beast of a movie, but one done with the upmost of cumulative restraint [B]