When the discussion arises about the best actors who are working, nine times out of 10 the name Denzel Washington will be brought up. He has been loved ever since he came into American families homes on the series St. Elsewhere as Dr. Philip Chandler. His Star only continued to climb as he made the transition into films. St. Elsewhere ran from 1982-1988 and before the series ended Washington already had been nominated for his first Oscar and a year after the series ended he would have his first win. I could ramble on and on about Denzel and his place on the Mount Rushmore of acting, but I’m going to solely focus on his latest film in which he stars and directs.
Fences is adapted from the play which debuted in 1983 and won the Pulitzer and Tony award in 1987. It is the story of time, place, and culture I have no experience or much knowledge about. Set in the 1950’s it is about a working class African American man and his life while raising a family and dealing with lost chances in his life. Denzel plays Troy Manson, a hard-working husband, and father who has only one mission in his life and that is to provide everything his family needs to survive and to make their way in the world. A former convict and Negro league baseball player, Troy has experienced first hand all that racial injustice can give to one man, and he is determined not to let that happen to his family, especially his son Cory. Cory is a high school student who has dreams of playing college football. Troy doesn’t want any part of Cory associated with sports because he feels his race will hold him back from being able to be successful. Because of this, he is afraid he will miss out on getting the education and skills he needs to get through and be a good man. Cory, on the other hand, wants nothing more than to feel some small sense of love from his father, and to make him proud. Showing love is something Troy doesn’t feel is necessary and that giving him what he needs physically is where his responsibility ends.
There is a unique relationship between Troy and every character in the film from his wife to his disabled brother to his best friend Bono, wonderfully played by Stephen Henderson. Troy is a man who is slightly disgruntled at the world and wants it to be different but sees only the futility in trying to make that change even in himself.
There have been plans for years to adapt the play Fences into a feature film, in fact, the script for this project was written over ten years ago by the original author August Wilson even though he passed away in 2005. Fences is without question one of Denzel’s biggest passion projects he’s ever had, and it shows. From the perfect delivery of every line of dialogue to the feelings towards each character that the viewer feels. Each performance is pitch perfect on all fronts, and while Denzel is front and center on and off screen, it’s Viola Davis who breathes life into the picture. Viola has been an active force in film and now TV for quite some time now, but Fences is going to cement her place amongst Hollywoods elite. Look for Davis to receive her third Oscar nomination as well as collect her first win.
While it took so long for this film to get made, it needed Denzel Washington and this cast at this time to make it great. The complexity of the character needed Washington at 62 years old not 45; it was a perfect storm that brought this film out. While he may be more than worthy of a third Academy Award for his acting in Fences, it’s only because of the powerhouse performance of Casey Affleck that is keeping him from winning. Don’t count him out of the best director race either. Awards buzz aside this should be the film mentioned when talking about Washington and Davis deep into their careers.