FENCES (12A, 139 mins)
NOMINATED for four Academy Awards including Best Picture, Fences is an assured film adaptation of August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play, directed for the screen by Denzel Washington.
The actor already has two golden statuettes on his mantelpiece for the films Glory and Training Day, and he is vying for a third Oscar for his showy performance here.
Such plaudits come as little surprise since Washington is well acquainted with the stage production.
He simmered with tightly coiled rage in a 2010 Broadway revival co-starring Viola Davis.
Both won coveted Tony Awards for their incendiary portrayals of a couple struggling to hold together their marriage against a backdrop of economic uncertainty and bigotry in 1950s Pittsburgh.
Reunited on the big screen, Washington and Davis rekindle molten chemistry and are able to suck us deeper into their characters’ suffering with the benefit of lingering, tear-stained close-ups.
Fences remains unerringly faithful to its stage origins and feels rather static, unfolding predominantly within the rooms or backyard of a modest home where family members trade bruising verbal blows.
Strong-willed patriarch Troy Maxson (Washington) presides over this tug-of-war for supremacy. He works as a rubbish collector alongside best friend Jim (Stephen Robertson), who loves to listen to Troy’s anecdotes.
"You got more stories than the devil got sinners," quips Jim.
Troy toils in order to provide for his wife Rose (Davis) and their son Cory (Jovan Adepo).
The young man is a gifted athlete and is being scouted for college football.
Troy refuses to sign his son’s permission slip because he believes the football leagues are rife with racial prejudice and he doesn’t want his flesh and blood to fail, as he did playing baseball many years before.
This refusal to support his son’s dream drives an insurmountable wedge between Troy and Cory.
"I’m the boss around here. I do the only saying what counts," barks the old man defiantly.
Meanwhile, the patriarch clashes with his other son, Lyons (Russell Hornsby), who only seems to materialise when he needs money.
Financial pressures tip Troy over the edge and his rage and frustration explode with devastating consequences.
Fences is a glittering showcase for the ensemble cast, led by the imperious Washington and Davis, who don’t hold back in pivotal scenes.
The latter richly deserves her Oscar nomination, and she’ll almost certainly win for deftly capturing the steeliness of a mother hen, who has sacrificed everything for her brood.
"I gave 18 years of my life to stand in the same spot with you. Don’t you think I ever wanted other things?" she rages.
Period detail is impressive and even though there is a palpable lack of cinematic dynamism to proceedings, there are plenty of dialogue-driven fireworks.
Released: February 10