Hailed by critics and audiences alike, Fences has been nominated for four Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Actor (Denzel Washington), Best Supporting Actress (Viola Davis) and Best Adapted Screenplay (August Wilson). Fences also has been named one of the best films of the year by the American Film Institute, Rolling Stone, Entertainment Weekly, the Producers Guild of America and more. In addition, Washington and Viola Davis both won SAG Awards for their performances and Davis' transcendent performance earned her the 2017 Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress and more than a dozen critics' group awards.
Adapted by legendary writer August Wilson from his own renowned play, Fences follows former Negro-league baseball player Troy Maxson (Washington) in 1950s Pittsburgh as he fights to provide for those he loves in a world that threatens to push him down. An unforgettable and timeless masterpiece, Fences "connects with people on a deep, emotional level" (Glenn Whipp, Los Angeles Times) and pulses with the universal truths of love and forgiveness, despite what lies beyond your own fence.
Denzel Washington and Viola Davis turn in remarkable performances in 'Fences', the 2016 film adaption of August Wilson's 1985 play, which all of the main actors in this movie (aside from the one playing the young son) did on Broadway together in 2010. It was Washington (who not only stars, but directed and produced) who decided to bring back his stage mates for the movie version and it works wonders. The familiarity the actors have with each other transfers to the people they are playing, making each and every character in the film well rounded and interesting to watch.
Denzel and Viola star as married couple Troy and Rose Maxson, who are living a lower middle-class life in the Hill District of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in the 1950s (although, honestly, it's only a few Pittsburgh references that clues the audience in...this could be Anytown, USA). Troy makes a living as a garbage collector, although he spends a lot of his free time lamenting about a baseball career that never happened for him. Rose is a dutiful housewife, and the two have a son together, Cory (Jovan Adepo). Troy has an older son, Lyons (Russell Hornsby), from an earlier relationship before he met and married Rose. Troy also has a disabled brother, Gabriel (Mykelti Williamson), whose brain was damaged as a result of a gunshot he suffered while serving in World War II. Troy's co-worker and good friend Jim Bono (Stephen McKinley Henderson) is also on hand for much of the story.
While early on in the movie, Troy seems very likeable and somewhat relatable, as the film progresses, the troubles of his existence begin to appear and unravel. He has a somewhat estranged relationship with his older son, while any closeness he has with Cory starts to fall apart when Troy prevents him from playing football, even though he's good enough that a college scout is interested in him. Later in the movie, actions that Troy is involved in will threaten his marriage to Rose as well. Almost all of Troy's problems come from a resentment he carries about his own failures – believing that were he born in a later era – and, yes, perhaps even with a different skin color – he could have been able to achieve his dreams.
Of course, the film's title, 'Fences' is an allegory for the various emotional walls that Troy has built up between himself and other members of his family. It's also symbolic of Rose's efforts to keep those around her close to her, as well as Troy's own fear about his life ending before he's ready to go (he has a long speech during the film about keeping the Grim Reaper away from him). Of course, there's also a real fence that Troy is building in the movie, with his progress or lack of it symbolizing where his relationships and emotional well-being are currently at.
If there's any complaint about 'Fences' – and it's a minor one – it's that the movie still feels very much like a stage play in its presentation. Only a few scenes take place away from the Maxson home, and the dialogue of the movie (screenwriter Tony Kushner adapted a screenplay that August Wilson had worked on prior to Wilson's death) still has that stage feel to it, rather than a more realistic, everyday tone. But those are minor quibbles. The acting here is so powerful, one can't help but enjoy every second of the movie. It's impressive work.
The Blu-Ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Fences' stakes its claim on Blu-ray in an eco-friendly Elite keepcase which includes an insert containing a code for both an UltraViolet and iTunes copy of the film as well as (on the flip side) a code for a digital copy of The Manchurian Candidate (which expires in mid-June of 2017, so be quick to redeem that one). The 50GB Blu-ray is not front-loaded with any trailers, and the main menu is a still shot of Denzel and Viola's characters (although different than the one on the box cover), with menu selections across the bottom of the screen. The Blu-ray also comes with a slipcover (matching the box cover) that slides overtop the keepcase.
The Blu-ray in this release is region-free.
'Fences' was shot on 35mm film on the Panavision Panaflex Millennium X2 and is presented here in the 2.40:1 aspect ratio. Very few movies (and even fewer major studio releases) are shot on film anymore, it's nice to see one as well rendered as it is here. There's a lushness to the visuals and a real clarity and depth to be found on this Blu-ray release, allowing viewers to see the detail in every brick and crack in the Maxon's home. Grain is present, but never obtrusive, and I detected no major issues with often-seen issues like aliasing or banding on this transfer.
While the color palette sticks very much to earth tones – we get a lot of browns and greens here – there's an overall warmth to the movie that I enjoyed. There are not many nighttime or dimly-lit sequences, but when needed, the black levels here are strong with an inky deep look to them – so no issues with noise creeping in. This is a great presentation that falls just a little bit short (but not much) of being reference-quality. Fans of the film should be quite pleased with the presentation.
The featured audio here is a 7.1 English DTS-HD Master Audio track, which proves to be more than enough for a movie like 'Fences', as it's very much a dialogue-heavy film with almost all of the dialgoue coming from the front and center. Of course, that doesn't mean the surrounds aren't used – although they're primarily to enhance the atmosphere with sounds like birds chirping or the occasional mummering of people in the background or down the road.
The track is clearly rendered, with no obvious glitches or issues of note.
In addition to the lossless 7.1 track, an English Audio Description Service is available. Subtitles are also an option in English, English SDH, French and Spanish.
Note: All of the bonus features on 'Fences' are exclusive to this Blu-ray home video release, as Paramount has only released a bare-bones version on DVD (However, these same bonus featurettes are available if you buy the digital copy on outlets such as Vudu). They're all detailed in our 'HD Bonus Content' section below.
Beautifully shot and acted, Denzel Washington's 'Fences' brings the acclaimed Broadway play to the big screen, thus making it available to millions who might not have the chance to see it otherwise. Both he and co-star Viola Davis are stunningly effective in their roles, giving us a look at the life of a struggling family who – despite the time period and economic status – almost all of us will be able to relate to. This is a wonderful film that, even with all the accolades it has received, probably hasn't gotten as much attention as it deserves. It's one of Washington's best movies to date and comes highly recommended.