Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Fences [2016]

MPAA (PG-13)  CNS/USCCB (A-III) (4 Stars)  AVClub (B-)  Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (K. Jensen) review
Ebony (D. Philyaw) review
Los Angeles Times (K Turan) review (O. Henderson) review
AVClub (I. Vishnevetsky) review

BET coverage coverage coverage

Fences [2016] (starring and directed by Denzel Washington, screenplay by August Wilson [wikip] [IMDb] based on his Pulitzer prize / multiple Tony Award winning (both in 1987 when it was first staged on Broadway and in 2010 on the occasion of its revival) stageplay by the same name) is an African American centric story that plays out in _thoroughly_ Chekhovian style in 1950s Pittsburgh (right at the dawn of the Civil Rights Era) that simply screams and _deserves_ OSCAR NOMINATIONS this time around (Best Picture, BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY, Best Director, BEST ACTOR, BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS).  It may not get (or deserve) ALL those nominations, but it should get at least a couple of them.

The story focuses on a mid 50-something African-American Pittsburgh GARBAGE MAN named Troy Maxson (played wonderfully throughout by Denzel Washington - both he and Viola Davis who plays Troy's wife Rose played the roles in the 2010 Broadway revival of the stage-play). 

Troy is portrayed as seething with anger.  He had been a _great_ African American baseball player "back in HIS DAY" but ... born _just a few years_ "too early" ... he never had the chance to play in the Major Leagues.  So there he was, spending his days, day-in-day-out, lifting countless _garbage cans_ (remember, he's now in his mid/late 50s) dumping _other people's trash_ into a garbage truck, all the while "shooting the breeze" (often actually quite happily) with his BFF fellow, though lighter skinned, African American garbage man Jim Bono (played by Stephen Henderson), wondering "what could have been" if he had been _just a few years younger_, Jackie Robinson's age ...

Indeed, living every day with such small encased (fenced-off ...) horizons, at the beginning of the story, Troy set-out to "right" at least one smaller indignity that was driving him crazy: "Why", he asks his BFF Bono, "are all the garbage truck DRIVERS _white_ and those DOING THE ACTUAL HEAVY LIFTING _coloured_?"

So, at the beginning of the story he goes first to his Boss, then to the Union Rep, then back to the Boss ... demanding that _this_ be changed.  And during the course of the story, the "higher ups" at that "moment in history" (when History was _about to change_) LISTEN TO HIM ... and by midway through the story, TROY "gets his Dream (of sorts...)" ... and is offered the job of Garbage Truck DRIVER, BUT amusingly (and in TYPICAL CHEKHOVIAN FASHION ;-) there are unexpected problems / unintended consequences:

(1) Suddenly, both he and Bono realize that TROY _DID NOT KNOW HOW TO DRIVE_ ;-) ...  "No matter," he says, "DRIVING is just a matter of POINTING the truck in the direction of where you want to go..."  So he fakes it and this proves to not be an _overwhelming problem_,  BUT EVEN WORSE ...

(2) by BECOMING the Garbage Truck Driver, Troy's now SITTING _ALONE_ IN THE FRONT of the Garbage Truck, and LOSES CONTACT with his best friend Bono, who's still working (now with someone new / different) in the back.  Soon BOTH are "looking to retire" because BOTH find themselves LONELY.  
But just as in Chekhov's Cherry Orchard, etc, there's _much more_ going on "at home" than JUST "in regards to economy / work." Indeed, most of what's truly important in Troy's life plays out OUTSIDE OF / AFTER Work.  In fact, most of the Play / Story, plays-out on various FRIDAY AFTERNOONS, _after work_, AFTER Troy picks-up his weekly hard-earned pay envelope and goes home to "Hold Court," mostly in the little Backyard -- a baseball still tied there on a string to a branch so that he (or his 17 year old son...) could "practice swinging" at it -- of his Home. 

THERE in that backyard, Troy's life really plays out.  A good part of the story's title "Fences" derives its name from this reality.  Troy's wife Rose asks him to build a Fence around that backyard.  SHE wants The Fence there to actually keep Troy "in" (when he's home, he's "out of trouble" and almost by definition _with her_ ...).  HE likes the fence as well because it demarks HIS "domain."  OUTSIDE, there may be a harsh world, but INSIDE, "he's Boss" / "King."  And that he DOES see himself as "King" at home DOES cause him problems with his 17-18 y.o. son Cory (played wonderfully throughout by Jovan Adepo). 

There'd be much more to say about this story, but I _don't_ want to get into "spoiler territory."  Safe to say, Troy was _not_ a perfect character: Rose had _good reason_ to want to keep him "inside the fence."  But though he did like his life "Inside _the Confines_ of his Domain," it's clear that as an "old baseball player" he still aimed "for the Fences" at times, that is, dreamed of "Hitting the Ball out of the Park..."

All in all, this is an excellent, well-crafted story.  That the film's adapted from a stage-play is quite obvious and may hurt it at the Oscars -- stage-plays adapted to the screen are generally "far talkier" / far more "dialogue driven" than screen adaptations of novels and this is certainly the case here.  Still no one can deny that the play itself is excellent as were the performances.  Excellent job!

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