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There is an art to adapting material not originally intended for film, whether it be from a book or a play. The line between remaining faithful to the original content and making artistic choices that will translate better on film, are not easy and are a big reason for so many failed adaptions. It is no secret that theatre productions have a smaller audience than films (fewer people will see the play), but those that haven’t seen the play or are even aware of it, still deserve as faithful an adaption as those who have seen it. Luckily, Denzel Washington (star and director) seems to understand this process, as Fences is a solid adaption with outstanding performances.

Fences is based on the 1987 Pulitzer Prize winner for Drama and the 1987 Tony Award for Best Play of the same name. Interestingly enough, both Denzel Washington and Viola Davis starred in the revival of this play in 2010 and each picked up a Tony Award for best actor and actress to add to their arsenal of fancy awards and nominations (between them they have been nominated for 8 Academy Awards, 14 Golden Globes, and 4 Tony Awards).

The story surrounds hard working blue collar father and former Negro League baseball player, Troy Maxson (Washington) and his wife, Rose Maxson (Davis) living in Pittsburgh with their son Cory (Jovan Adepo). Troy is a man of many convictions and has an affinity for seemingly endless monologues with bits of truth swallowed by hyperbole and a general flare of the dramatics. For the first half of the film, nothing really happens. You see the characters that weave their way in to the Maxson family’s day to day activities, you hear Troy rant, you see Rose chuckle and shake her head, and repeat. It’s not until the big bomb is dropped that you realize that not all is though it appears to be. Only when that bomb is dropped do the viewers understand that the version of the story we had been watching is that of which Troy wanted the world to see.

I can’t say I found Troy Maxson to be likable in the slightest but I don’t think he’s supposed to be likable. He’s a man who wears many hats like so many of us- he’s a father, husband, caretaker, provider, a trash man, among other things. He’s not inherently good or bad. Even though this film takes place in the 50’s, it’s not really a “period piece” in the sense that we are used to. You can imagine all of the historical things that are happening outside of their door during the 50’s, but other than slight nods with newspaper front pages and passing comments, we are truly rooted in the goings on of the Maxson family. The story is not planted in the setting, it’s rooted in the characters and the superb performances by Washington and Davis.

Heavily invested is an understatement for my feelings while watching Fences. I was entertained but more importantly, I was impressed. Fences does a great service to the original author, August Wilson, and reminded this millennial what quality acting truly looks like. Movies that are geared toward my target demographic are typically fast and flashy with exciting soundtracks. That’s what I’ve grown accustom to, but this reminded me that sometimes the best stories contain little more than proper build up, talented actors, and a fence that needs mending.

Fences is streaming now on the following services:
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