August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize winning play Fences was adapted into a feature film, directed by and starring Denzel Washington. Fences is the story of Troy Maxson (Washington), a sanitation worker living in 1950s Pittsburgh whose youthful ambitions to play major league baseball were thwarted by a racist league. Maxson’s bitterness and struggle to find peace affect his relationship with his wife, son and brother.
The film maintains a high coherence with the play. Charged with adapting his play to the screen and given the freedom to experiment with the structure, Wilson chose to arrange the text in an amalgamation of the play and script formatting rather than strictly like a script. As a result, the screenplay has a striking resemblance to the original play. The setting, a neighborhood in Pittsburgh, confines the characters to the Maxsons’ home and backyard while allowing for only brief instances of outside interaction.
The translation of dialogue from play to script, which is almost entirely the same, can be a problem when characters deliver monologues and have lengthy conversations within the cinematic universe. This initial awkwardness, a result of the fact that the story was meant for the stage, is drowned out by the leads in the film. Denzel Washington and Viola Davis deliver tremendous performances; Davis is the front-runner for the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress after winning the title at the Golden Globes, and Washington is still in the mix for Best Actor. Overall, the cast is talented enough to outweigh problems of adapting theatrical dialogue and the theater’s slower pace to the screen. The plot weighs heavily on dramatic yet startlingly human moments to provide a comprehensive and thorough story.