Fences’ successfully translates Broadway to big screen

By Ivan Mateo

Knowing the source material for a film gives particular insight to each character and each scene.

Certain expectations can be placed upon the viewer which can rise to exponential heights or fall downwards into the depths of mediocrity, but when a film captures the very essence of the source material, then audiences are surely in for a treat.

The 2016 film, “Fences,” is based on August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize winning play written in 1983.

“Fences” premiered on Broadway in 1987 with James Earl Jones and Mary Alice starring as Troy and Rose Maxson.

In 2010, a revival of “Fences” hit Broadway with Denzel Washington and Viola Davis playing Troy and Rose.

In 2016’s film version of the play, Washington directs and co-stars with Davis.

Could they capture the fundamental essence of the play that propelled Wilson to win a Pulitzer Prize?

Could they recreate the success of both the 1987 and 2010 Broadway plays that earned numerous Tony Awards?

Recently released films are often overloaded with special effects or CGI, but plays focus on the set design, costumes, lighting and, most importantly, the acting displayed by the cast.

No special effects, no CGI, just acting in its purest form. Does the Broadway play translate well enough to the big screen?

The events of “Fences” take place in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in the 1950’s.

Troy, a waste collector at the back of a garbage truck, and his best friend, Jim Bono (Stephen McKinley Henderson), often wonder why a black man cannot work as the driver of a truck.

Troy used to be an up-and-coming baseball player, but because of his color, he was never afforded even the slightest chance to succeed.

Troy often regales and spins tales about his time as a baseball player to anyone willing to listen.

Lyons Maxson (Russell Hornsby), Troy’s son from a previous marriage, occasionally visits his house to ask for money from his father.

Troy always warns Lyons to get a real job rather than pursue his passion for music.

Cory Maxson (Jovan Adepo), the son of Troy and Rose, lives with his parents.

Cory is a high school student with aspirations to play college football.

Gabriel “Gabe” Maxson (Mykelti Williamson), Troy’s older brother and a war veteran, often wanders the streets speaking about heaven.

He suffered a head injury during World War II, leaving him mentally impaired.

Cory wants to be different from his father by succeeding where Troy could not.

Troy does not want his son to pursue sports because of the color barriers that he encountered when he was younger.

Although the world and times have changed since Troy was younger, he continues to hold his ideals because he deems them correct.

Scenes are often shot in one continuous shot where the camera pans behind characters to capture their respective points of view.

Seeing the perspective over the shoulder of another character provides an introspective and intimate look into the character’s point of view.

At times the scene can get blurry, but more often than not the camera angle and character focus works.

Fences are generally built for protection to provide walls to keep danger away.

There are different interpretations as to what exactly a fence provides, as Bono insightfully mentions, “Some people build fences to keep people out, and other people build fences to keep people in.”

Each scene shared between Troy and Cory or Rose absolutely resonates as a memorable scene between the old guard and the new changing world.

Troy, who dedicates everything he can possibly muster for his family, succumbs to the pressures and the rote nature of daily life.

Troy lives by his personal code to a frustratingly stubborn degree.

Over time, he begins to fall and fails to maintain the values he often tried to instill in those around him.

This causes his relationships to become strained to an irreparable condition.

Opposite Troy, Rose stays strong and resolute in her patience to understand and accept the faults and wrongdoings that come her way.

She sees adversity and adapts, something Troy could learn from before it’s too late.

As bright as Washington’s star is, Davis shines just as bright or even brighter.

Their performances carry “Fences” strongly, so when award season comes around, nominations will surely be heading their way.

Washington and Davis help translate “Fences” from Broadway to the big screen by seamlessly carrying the film with their stellar performances.

“Fences” is rated PG-13 for thematic elements, language and some suggestive references.

The film was released on Dec. 25 and is playing in theaters now.

Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

‘Fences’ movie poster

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