|Denzel Washington stars in and directs August Wilson's Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Fences.|
When you watch Denzel Washington in the movie version of Fences, you don’t think, “This is a great actor”; you think, “This is an actor who wants to make sure you know how great he is.” In the mammoth role of Troy Maxson, the 1950s Pittsburgh sanitation worker who is the protagonist of August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize- and Tony Award-winning 1987 play – and under his own direction – Washington yells and declaims, shambles and struts and puffs himself up. His recitations of the long, long speeches Wilson put in this character’s mouth are like tricky vocal exercises, and we have plenty of time to marvel at his mastery of modulation and tone, particularly since we’re not distracted by any emotional involvement in the performance. On human terms I didn’t believe a single word of it, at least until, late in the picture, Troy began to sing to himself while puttering around his yard building the symbolic fence we hear about in every damn scene. (It signifies, depending on the moment, Troy’s penchant for alienating the people closest to him, his refusal to let in the truth about himself, and his struggle, in the Edgar Allan Poe “Masque of the Red Death” sense, to keep death away from his door.) This song about an old dog named Blue feels genuine, as if for once in the movie Washington didn’t feel he had something to prove. Or maybe I was just relieved that the character had stopped talking.