Much has already been written about Denzel Washington’s film adaptation of Fences, which has recently been released on blu-ray and streaming services. Washington took a little heat for his direction, but basically I think he did a fine job in his freshman effort behind the camera. He demonstrated a solid understanding of what a director does: strong craft, not much artistry, and little fuss. He got out of the way so that the play could be seen and heard.
Viola Davis rightly earned numerous plaudits in the role of Rose Maxson. She deserved an Oscar, but for Best Actress not Best Supporting Actress (a discussion for another time). Washington was necessarily volcanic as Troy, though I still cannot get the indelible impression James Earl Jones made in the Broadway premiere. Unsung in much of the criticism is Stephen McKinley Henderson. An excellent stage actor (he recently starred in Stephen Adly Guirgis’s Between Riverside and Crazy), he added much to the role of Bono. Fences offers a number of three-hander scenes between Troy, Rose, and Bono, and Henderson more than held up his own end. He deserves great praise as well.
“To have that concentration to act well is like lugging things up staircases in your brain. I think that’s a thing people don’t understand. It is that exhausting. If you’re doing it well, if you’re concentrating the way you need to, if your will and your concentration and emotional and imagination and emotional life are all in tune, concentrated and working together in that role, that is just like lugging weights upstairs with your head…And I don’t think that should get any easier.” Philip Seymour Hoffman