Troy Maxson (Denzel Washington) is a trash collector in 1950s Pittsburgh who lives with his wife Rose (Viola Davis) and their son Cory (Jovan Adepo). While Troy seems friendly at times, he’s bitter that his days as a baseball star in the Negro Leagues came before the color barrier in baseball broke, and he’s prone to hurling his frustrations with life at those around him.
Washington, who directs the film as well as stars in it, originally starred in the 2010 Broadway revival of the play, along with Davis and most of the supporting cast (among the major players, only Adepo is new to the production). That history carries over into the film, which was adapted by playwright August Wilson from his own play prior to his death in 2005, in ways both great and less-than-great.
The film’s only real issue is the staged nature of it. While Washington makes use of a set that’s certainly more real than what was used on Broadway, the theatrical nature of the language sometimes works against the film. But with the material and performers present, that’s a minor complaint. Washington taps into his better abilities as an actor, using his own natural charm to make Troy likable at times, even when doing some truly awful things. Davis, meanwhile, commands the screen with her presence. Both won Tonys for their performances, and could very well repeat at the Oscars with their turns here. They’re supported by a talented cast that helps give some dimensions to this world. For audiences who enjoy watching riveting performances, there are few more worthy watches this season than Fences.