Fences Oscar bound

Fences knocks it over the fence

Fences, the Pulitzer Prize-winning drama by August Wilson, was written in 1983 and its 1987 Broadway premiere starred James Earl Jones.

After it’s spate of theatrical awards and wide critical acclaim, numerous attempts have been made to produce a film version. The obstacle was, however that author Wilson was adamant that he would never allow a movie to be made unless it was directed by someone who was black.

Wilson’s reasoning was simple, he was aware of the racial inequality in Hollywood and he wanted to change it “whites have set themselves up as custodians of our experience."

Wilson died in 2005, but I think he would be very proud of the much-awaited film version of his masterpiece.

This version, starring and directed by Denzel Washington, is essentially a transfer of the 2010 Broadway revival that won him and co-star Viola Davis (The Help) Tony awards.

They are joined by two other fellow theatre cast-mates, Mykelti Williamson (Forrest Gump) as Troy’s brain-damaged brother, Gabriel, and Russell Hornsby (Meet The Parents) as Troy’s eldest son, Lyons.

The plot centres on a Pittsburgh garbage collector Troy Maxson. Troy was once a star professional baseball player in the Negro League.

Despite his gifts, it was bad timing for him to be born a generation before Jackie Robinson. Because he never found fortune or fame from baseball, he refuses to accept that the game is now opening up for other men of colour.

Troy doesn’t want anyone to have the success he was denied, including his own teenage son, Cory (played by British newcomer Jovan Adepo), who is a gifted football player.

Troy goes out of his way to stymie his son’s opportunity with a football scout. Under the guise of protecting him from the inevitable, he blocks his son’s chance to have a better life than he did.

Fences (both literal and metaphorical) are everywhere. Troy was fenced-out of the major leagues when he was young because of his race and then spent 15 years in prison for killing a man.

He is building a fence at the request of his wife “sometimes people build fences to keep people out, but sometimes, they build them to keep people they love in.”

Largest of all is the barrier Troy has erected between himself, his two sons and eventually his loving and devoted wife. 

As the complex and tortured Troy, Washington is fantastic if a little long in the tooth for this role, which was intended to be played by an actor in his early 50s.

I can’t help but wonder if he might have delivered a more tempered performance had he been directed by someone else. He seems to start off the film at such a fevered pitch, there is very little room to go from there and we get a little weary of his intensity.

Viola Davis is outstanding as Troy’s long-suffering wife Rose. We empathize fully with her as she struggles to hold her family together and her tearful, nose-running confrontation with Troy’s selfishness reveals a deep agony that will tear your heart apart.

There is no question that Davis will take the Oscar for best actress this year and I predict Washington will be nominated, but will not win.

Despite the heavy-hitting performances, the script is the true star of this film. It is brilliant and intense and rips the gauze from the still painful wound of black America’s ugly racial past, putting it under the microscope of examination.

Would Wilson be pleased? A black director, extraordinary performers, a true and faithful adaptation.

I think he would be pleased indeed.

I give this film 5 hearts.

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About the Author

Kim Foreman-Rhindress is a graduate of the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City and London Western Conservatory of music for piano and voice. 

Kim has been performing in theatre and film for over 30 years in Canada, NYC, Palm Beach, Los Angeles, and the Netherlands. She has written several plays which have been produced in Canada and the U.S., and is the founder of Kelowna Voice Lab - helping people find their voice, be it singing or acting. 

A working musician, she performs regularly in Kelowna with her husband, Jim Rhindress, in an acoustic duo Smitten, and with her vintage trio Kitsch 'n Sync.  

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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