Liverpool Sound and Vision Rating * * * * *
Cast: Denzil Washington, Viola Davis, Stephen Henderson, Jovan Adepo, Russell Hornsby, Mykelti Williamson, Saniyya Sidney.
Pittsburgh is not a place the traveller normally finds themselves in when they go to the United States of America, a city that was largely forgotten outside of its sporting achievements before and after World War Two, a city built on steel and coke, iron and cobalt, many to whom the atmosphere of the city was enough to seek out on their adventures, perhaps more convivial places of interest. It is a shame for Pittsburgh is by far one of the most interesting and vibrant cities in North America and its people are, along with New York, perhaps the most down to Earth you could ever meet.
It is a quality picked up by Pulitzer Prize winning playwright August Wilson in his play Fences, forthright, honest, the deep dissatisfaction that runs in the veins of many but especially in its African American citizens and yet a sense of pride that cannot be undone, that cannot be misplaced as anything but truly engaging.
In arguably Mr. Washington’s finest performance on screen since Philadelphia and Cry Freedom, Fences takes this consummate American actor into the dark corners of an angry lost human soul that for many he not had the chance to take on. This study of a world in which the core family unit is held together by distrust, by resentment, by the feeling of failure and the system in which they were always made to feel outsiders and cast offs, the language and disposition is enhanced by the boiling rage and anger that breathes in the very acting breast of Denzil Washington’s Troy Maxson.
It is always with a sense of calm precision to feel the playwright’s immediacy with the script. On stage it cannot fail to be noticed, the actor’s very presence and feel for the shape of the situation has to be big and gregarious to get the point across, when that stage is taken up to the level of cinema it can be lost in the noise and desire for a charge that should not be there; yet Denzil Washington, along with the rest of this magnificent cast, including Viola Davis as his loving but long suffering wife Rose Lee Maxso, rise above this; they take the closeness of the theatre and enlarge it just enough so the audience get the appreciation and reality of the situation, the value of Pittsburgh in the 1950s but never once lose the intimacy.
Fences is one of the true great adaptations from stage to screen, a firebrand, an explosion of valour and theatrical engagement in cinematic form, one that makes Pittsburgh a mighty place, a realisation that not everything in life has to be perfect for it to be taken seriously and noteworthy.
Ian D. Hall