Fences film delivers stunning acting and storytelling

Starring Denzel Washington and Viola Davis, "Fences" asks how we respond when we shoot for the stars and miss.

Fences, starring Denzel Washington and Viola Davis, screened at Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar in Austin last night. Both Washington and Davis are nominated for Golden Globes for their performances, and Washington also directed the film. Set in 1956, Fences is about people and changes.

It portrays a family at a critical time, when hard-nosed father Troy Maxon (Washington) is challenged at his job at the city sanitation department. His wife Rose (Davis) is challenged by realizing that her life is, again, not going according to plans. Their son Cory (Jovan Adepo) is caught between a rock and hard place with Troy limiting Cory’s sports opportunities, and Cory with zero interest in the alternatives.

Ever-charismatic, Washington carries the film as the moody and domineering Troy.

Throughout the story, Troy is building a fence in the small yard behind the family’s house, where a strung baseball hangs from a tree as a reminder of Troy’s once-promising baseball career and photos of MLK, John F. Kennedy, and a very white Jesus hang in the kitchen. The movie isn’t about race, but it paints a pretty complete picture of working-class Black life in America – at least, in that time and place.

Fences, written by August Wilson and based on his play of the same name, asks how we respond when we shoot for the stars and miss. How do we respond when someone else is to blame? When there’s no one to blame. When the only person to blame is ourselves. When clouds momentarily part and the sun shines on the spot where we’re standing, how long a shadow do we cast on people around us, especially those we love?

Ever-charismatic, Washington carries the film as the moody and domineering Troy. We’re used to Washington being the epitome of American cool – street smart and strong – but he’s also raw and vulnerable in this role. It looks good on him. Davis leaves you breathless during the film’s climax.

Other memorable performances include Mykelti Williamson, who steals the show as Troy’s brother with mental impairments. Also, Stephen McKinley Henderson as Troy’s loyal friend Bono who is content where Troy struggles, and Russell Hornsby as Troy’s wayward first son. If there’s any ice left around your heart by the end of the film, the adorable Saniyya Sidney will surely melt it.

Davis and her husband, Julius Tennon (who is an Austinite), are long-time sponsors of Austin’s Capital City Black Film Festival through their production company JuVee Productions. The festival, now in its fifth year, and soulciti co-sponsored last night’s Fences screening at the Alamo. These events are important to show demand for Black films, which is essential to generating funding so that our stories continue to be told. Supporting storytelling is another reason to check out this movie while it’s in theaters.

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