The film is indeed an adaptation of a play of the same name by August Wilson; and though nominated for the Oscars, many critics opined that the film largely failed to translate well for the big screen. Set in the 1950s Pittsburgh, the film narrates the story of Troy Maxson, played by Denzel Washington, an African-American middle aged man, who lifts garbage for a living. He’s a hardworking, proud and confident man who’s the only breadwinner for the family. His wife, Rose (played by Viola Davis), is a homemaker, a supportive partner and a caring mother. They have an adolescent son, named Cory (played by Jovan Adepo), who aspires to be a professional football player but his father doesn’t approve of his wish. Troy has an older son, Lyons (Russell Hornsby), from his previous relationship, who visits Troy on his paydays to borrow money from him. Most of the film takes place in and around the Maxson household, imitating the original play’s setting. The concept is nice, but it limits the film’s appeal by narrowing its spatial capacity.
Not just the use of more space, but a few flashbacks and appearance of a few characters would also have contributed in making the film less play-like. When Troy reminisces his glorious days as a baseball player, the audience fails to share his enthusiasm because they can not actually visualise his splendours. Lyons’ disappointment with his father for not being there when he was growing up, likewise, would have been more relatable to the audience if there was more visual support. The turns in the story are hasty for a film; however, the brilliant performances make up for every single shortcoming present in the film. The characters, at certain points, tend to get dramatic, but the convincing approach by the actors makes it all believable and succeeds to move the audience. Washington portrays Troy’s mischief, disappointments, practicality and illusions as vividly as possible. The story is about Troy and his relationships; Washington brings it to life. Troy is actually a defeated sportsman, but blames it on his skin colour. He does not show any love and care towards his sons because he believes he is a realist; but lives most of his life in an illusion. Though these contradictions sometimes make Troy difficult to identify with, Washington’s genius as an actor makes the audience care for the character.
Rose is the “perfect” housewife; she cooks for everyone, takes care of everyone, supports her children and loves her husband unconditionally - so unconditionally that she raises her husband’s born-out-of-wedlock daughter as her own and forgives her husband eventually as well. She’s constantly trying to resolve the war between her husband and her son. Davis is wonderfully elegant in her portrayal of the loving mother and wife. Rose’s love, heartbreak, helplessness and strength – everything finds better expression with Davis’ acting excellence. Mykelti Williamson plays a mentally disabled younger brother of Troy, whose disability resulted from a head injury in the World War II. Williamson depicts the character wonderfully and makes the performance appear effortless.
Fences is the story of Troy Maxson, a strong man, who continuously fights with the world to protect himself and his family from its adversities; in order to do that, he often finds shelter under his make-believe world. Illusion is, therefore, a very important subject in the film - the family literally builds a fence around their house which represents their (especially Rose’s) illusion that it will keep the loved ones close and protected from the external world. The film received many accolades including four Oscar nominations at the 89th Academy Awards.