139 Minutes. Starring: Denzel Washington, Viola Davis, Stephen Henderson, Russell Hornsby, Jovan Adepo & Mykelti Williamson. Director: Denzel Washington.
"Hey Pop! Can I ask you a question? How come you never liked me"? "What law got to say I like you?" "What have you ever give me"? "Your feet. Them bones. That PUMPING heart"! "Everything that boy does he do for you". "It's not easy for me to admit that I've been standing in the same spot for 18 years". "WELL I'VE BEEN STANDING WITH YOU"! "Some people build fences to keep people out. And some people build fences to keep people in"! Every family forsaken word in 'Fences' hits you like a sledgehammer. Forget the baseball bat swinging for the bleach. Because after his directorial debut 'Antwone Fisher' and then 'The Great Debators' retort, Denzel Washington's amazing adaptation of August Wilson's powerful Pulitzer Prize winning 1985 play that he reunited with 'Fisher' co-star Viola Davis for doesn't just knock it out...it belongs in its own ballpark. As now off Broadway and on screens in theatres, Denzel and Davis-together again-who both won Tony's are pitching for Oscars. And who could blame them for trying? Because no matter how gorgeous Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling are, everyone in 'La La Land' has to admit the beautiful truth. This is the best Oscar season picture right now (even if in a couple of weeks the shimmering 'Moonlight' and 'Hidden Figures' reveal may just change our minds...again). Not the similarly sobering 'Manchester By The Sea' or the flash-grenade wake up call to duty that is Mel Gibson's 'Hacksaw Ridge'. Revealing the best of 'Gone Baby Gone' and 'Silence' actors Casey Affleck and Andrew Garfield respectively. But with all due respect, striking new heights Washington should be nominated for both 'Best Actor' and 'Best Director'...because he could probably have a chance in doing the double. Thank goodness 'The Help' standout Viola Davis looks to be a shoe-in to win 'Best Actress'. Looks like the whitewashed Academy may be finally be getting it so right. Because this look of home life behind the pickets is more than just a triumph for black cinema. It's a landmark movie in any race period. Creed or competition. From the Hollywood sign to the watching world beyond the City of Stars.
Washington on August sure is something else this time of year. Denzel, was iconic in the biopic of 'Malcolm X' by Spike Lee. But he's even better here with those 'Mo Better Blues' and a son wanting to 'Cry Freedom' for some 'Glory' days like those Titans we Remember, before he enlists like 'Courage Under Fire'. Grounding his boys dreams like Tom Hanks' 'Sully' snub, the 'Philadelphia' freedom co-star was Academy Award nominated for 'Flight' but won the Oscar for his 'Training Day', beating Ethan Hawke's rookie cop. But this 'Bone Collector' has barely been more fleshed out with his body of work than this. This being the great 'Equalizer' franchise makers best in years. And he's just come off reuniting with Hawke and remaking 'The Magnificent Seven' classic. Safe to say this 'Unstoppable', 'American Gangster' legend is a 'Man On Fire' like he has been since before 2004. Blazing hot with this incendiary, by the fire family story for every household and name. Racheting up the tension like sawing the wood that makes said fence. Just like rubbing two sticks for those who greet great drama with hands together. It almost sounds like something out of a horror, but it's for sure thrilling too. And it doesn't get much scarier than Denzel's dad with his back broken against the brick wall. Fenced in by his big league dreams gone minor, he's now majoring in the bottle. Drunk off false pride. Hungover by the truth of shame. Strike one...bitterness. Strike two...resentment. Strike three...RAGE! And he's out of there. Now not only does he not want his son to walk down to the same plate as him (or gridiron in this case), he's hell for a life bent on making sure he follows his path. Not preordained, but the house rules one. From the gaslighting of using his mother as manipulation, to straight up blind intimidation. This is abuse that doesn't show up purple and blue, but scars on a much deeper, a more emotionally trembling level. The kind that stays with you and in turn dictates all you do and don't (out of fear) do in this life. And in this theme and message of dreams and hopes made null and void from generation to generation. But in indulging in the sins of the father, Denzel gives an inferno of a performance. One matched only by his husband preaching so much overbearing respect from his son he's benign to his own neglect to his have and to hold in sickness and in health. It doesn't get much more complex than that for a man and film that throws you one hell of a curveball. And Washington is one of the only men who can alternate like he does actor and director between those states like D.C.
Denzel had been this bad before. Remember Alonzo? But to be real he's not really bad here. More fallen. Like the parts of this man who can move you in so many ways out of nowhere. From what you've come to know, to what you'd never expect. Or that single tear, lump choked up breakdown in 'The Taking Of Pelham 1 2 3', to moving us to some Al Green's 'How Can You Mend A Broken Heart' in 'The Book Of Eli'. Here he unbelievably makes us hate him but then love him all over again. Mastering this four walls isolation play like he does the stage to screen transition of minimal sets, but maximum impact. But those who feel it the most are the people around his character, including us the audience. Viola Davis who told Los Angeles Lakers and NBA legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (who has also wrote a 'Moriarty Holmes' Sherlock spin-off that Conan Doyle would be proud of amongst other novels) for The Hollywood Reporter that in all her roles (from the James Brown biopic 'Get On Up' to the D.C. 'Suicide Squad' mash-up assemble) she has to find her characters need to matter. And boy does she. Character and actor. Right here and right now Viola is just as good an actor as Denzel...if not even better in this movie. Forget gender...didn't you learn from what those 'Hidden Figures' did for the man on the moon? But still you best believe the 'Best Actress' honor will be hers. Because she belongs with them all. No white male can leave her out. She's been walking this tall since the credits rolled on 'The Help'. Even Emma Stone knows...the award is hers. And don't you worry about another stirring speech that will rock you to your core...she's already delivered it here. Who else can stand up, with and against it all? All the disgrace...yet being the embodiment of nothing but the second syllable of that word. Proving a womans place is in the heart of a family, against any attack...and definitly no sexist stereotype. Her Rose character blooms from the concrete encasing of her husbands dream struck-drunk poverty that's taking him out like the garbage that makes his bread and butter. Davis and Washington aren't the only Broadway players back on the Playbill of the adapted playwright. If you're a stranger to spotlights and stages you may have seen Stephen Henderson on Ben Stiller's 'Tower Heist', or much more recently even the Oscar competition 'Manchester By The Sea'. But here he plays and personifies the greatest best friend anyone could ask for in this post war neighbourhood for the B.F.F. B.S today that's hardly the greatest generation. Genuine affection also comes from 'Lincoln Heights' and 'Get Rich Or Die Trying' player Russell Hornsby and his great range playing a musician with as much style as his slick dress, but substance as deep as he wishes his pockets were. Whereas relative newcomer Jovan Adepo floors you as the central character in this father son dynamite dynamic that rounds all the bases until gravel and dust is kicked in your eyes. Adepo in this film is on the brink of maturing right into his own leading man. And an utterly moving and magnificent Mykelti Williamson, who is wonderful as Washington's brother completes this family tie. Aching with a humanity those ignorant to illness think alien and something to avoid. 'Forrest Gumps' Bubba is back! Real but raw. Brutal but beautiful. This desperation defining drama needs a back on-Broadway run for Viola and Washington after this cinematic revival. Because nothings peering over this one and all it's built. August and everything after. In an eclectic time for the Academy, the electric 'Fences' looks to keep anyone else trying to bring Oscar home...out. TIM DAVID HARVEY.
See This If You Liked: 'Antwone Fisher', 'Manchester By The Sea', 'Moonlight'.