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Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Denzel Washington|
|Screenplay by||August Wilson|
by August Wilson
|Music by||Marcelo Zarvos|
|Cinematography||Charlotte Bruus Christensen|
|Edited by||Hughes Winborne|
|Distributed by||Paramount Pictures|
|Box office||$57.5 million|
Fences is a 2016 American drama film directed by Denzel Washington and written by August Wilson, based on his Pulitzer Prize-winning play of the same name (Wilson died in 2005, but completed a screenplay before his death). The film stars Denzel Washington, Viola Davis, Stephen Henderson, Jovan Adepo, Russell Hornsby, Mykelti Williamson and Saniyya Sidney.
Principal photography on the film began on April 25, 2016, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in the Hill District, and wrapped in mid-June 2016. Fences was released in the United States on December 16, 2016, by Paramount Pictures, received positive reviews and has grossed $55 million. The film was chosen by the American Film Institute as one of the top ten films of 2016, and has been nominated for numerous awards, including four Oscar nominations at the 89th Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Actor (Washington), Best Supporting Actress (Davis), and Best Adapted Screenplay. It also received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor for Washington and a Best Supporting Actress win for Davis.
In 1950's Pittsburgh, Troy Maxson (Denzel Washington) lives with his wife Rose (Viola Davis) and their son Cory (Jovan Adepo), and works as a waste collector alongside his best friend, Jim Bono (Stephen Henderson). Troy's younger brother, Gabriel Maxson (Mykelti Williamson), sustained a head injury in World War II that left him mentally impaired, for which he received a $3,000 government payout that Troy used to purchase a home for his family. Gabriel has since moved out, but still lives in the neighborhood, where he is often tormented by the local children.
In his adolescence, Troy left home and became a robber to sustain himself. After killing a man during a robbery led him to prison, he met Bono and revealed himself to be a talented baseball player. He then played in the professional Negro Leagues, but never made it to Major League Baseball. Although it is likely that he was rejected due to his advanced age, Troy firmly believes he was passed over due to the color of his skin. Having survived a near-fatal bout of pneumonia in his youth, Troy claims to have done so by defeating the Grim Reaper in a fistfight, upon which the Reaper vowed to return for a rematch.
Troy's estranged son from a previous relationship, Lyons Maxson (Russell Hornsby), infrequently visits him to borrow money, upsetting Troy, whose belief in responsibility rejects Lyons' pursuing his dream of becoming a musician instead of finding a real job – Troy refuses to even visit the bar where his son's band is playing. Rose later tells Troy that Cory is being scouted by a college football team, but Troy is dismissive of Cory's chances of reaching the NFL. Not only is he stung by his own lack of success in baseball, but he believes that racial discrimination is still common in the major leagues. He tells Cory that he will not sign the permission documents if the college recruiter visits their home. He does not want his son to fail as he did, but there is also some jealousy that Cory might achieve the success that had eluded his father.
Rose asks Troy to build a fence around their house, and Troy demands that Cory help him as punishment for Cory not doing his chores due to football practice. Troy and Cory clash over Cory's ambitions to play college football. On learning that Cory is not working at his part-time job due to football practice, Troy demands that he return to the job, despite Cory's attempts to convince him that the job is being held for him until football season is over.
Troy achieves a promotion to driving the garbage truck, becoming the first African-American to do so in Pittsburgh even though he can't read and doesn't have a driver's license. Bono finds out that Troy is cheating on Rose with Alberta, a woman he met at the local bar, and alerts him his actions will have repercussions. The two then become estranged when Troy is assigned to a different neighborhood. Troy later finds out that Cory did not return to his part-time job at the A&P, and forces Cory's coach to kick him off the team – Troy also refuses to meet with the college scout who plans to visit their home. Cory lashes out and throws his helmet at Troy, which Troy claims is the first of Cory's three permitted offenses. When called to bail Gabriel out of jail for disturbing the peace, Troy unknowingly signs papers rerouting half of Gabriel's pension to a psychiatric hospital, forcing Gabriel to be institutionalized.
Troy is forced to reveal his affair to Rose when his mistress becomes pregnant, leading to an argument in which Troy aggressively grabs Rose, causing Cory to intervene and knock Troy into a fence, which Troy marks as Cory's second offense. In the following months, Troy and Rose become estranged, although they keep living in the same house, and Troy continues to visit his mistress, who ultimately dies in childbirth after going into early labor, leading an embittered Troy to angrily challenge the Reaper to another fight.
Troy brings his baby daughter Raynell home, and Rose decides to raise her as her own, but refuses to accept Troy back into her life. Cory enlists in the United States Marine Corps after missing his opportunity to attend college. When he returns home, intoxicated Troy blocks his path and instigates a fight in which Cory swings at Troy with a baseball bat. Troy gains the upper hand, grabs the bat from Cory, and drives him out of the house. Energized and disoriented by his victory, Troy once again challenges the Reaper to come for him.
Six years later, Troy has died of a heart attack, and Cory, now a USMC corporal, returns home but informs Rose he refuses to attend the funeral. Rose admits to loving Troy despite his many flaws and pleads that Troy is still a part of him, and Cory later reconsiders after interacting with an older Raynell (Saniyya Sidney). Gabriel is released from the hospital to attend the funeral and reunites with his family as they all bid farewell to Troy. Gabriel prays for St. Peter to open the gates of heaven for Troy, and a shimmering sunlight glistens over them, symbolizing intergenerational forgiveness and peace.
Previous attempts to adapt August Wilson's Fences for the screen had been fruitless, partly due to Wilson's insistence on utilizing an African-American director. In a 2013 interview with Empire, Denzel Washington expressed his intention to star in and direct an adaptation of Fences, reprising his role from the 2010 Broadway revival of the play, which, like the film, was produced by Scott Rudin.
On January 28, 2016, it was reported that Rudin, Washington, and Todd Black would produce a film adaptation of the play, directed by Washington and starring Washington and Viola Davis, reprising their roles from the 2010 revival that garnered both actors Tony Awards. Playwright and screenwriter Tony Kushner came aboard to build on a draft written by Wilson before his death in 2005. However, Wilson is the only credited screenwriter for the film, while Kushner received a co-producer credit. Black explained that Washington insisted that they remain faithful to Wilson's work, saying, "The star of the movie is the screenplay and August Wilson's words. What Denzel said to me, to Scott, to all the actors, the cinematographer, and the production designer was, 'Don't make any decision without August Wilson's words leading you to make that decision.' Whatever you do, let the words inform your decision first. That's what we all had to abide by."
On April 4, 2016, Mykelti Williamson, Jovan Adepo, Russell Hornsby, Stephen Henderson, and Saniyya Sidney joined the cast, with Williamson, Hornsby, and Henderson also reprising their roles from the 2010 production.
On April 25, 2016, it was reported that Fences had begun filming in Pittsburgh. On June 14, 2016, principal photography was completed. Post-production was completed in mid-November. Charlotte Bruus Christensen was the director of photography, David Gropman was the production designer, Sharen Davis was the costume designer, Hughes Winborne edited the film, Sean Devereaux was the visual effects supervisor, and Marcelo Zarvos composed the film's score.
In the first week of January 2017, a week after its wide release, DVD-quality screeners of the film were leaked online, similar to the release of Oscar contenders The Revenant and The Hateful Eight the year before.
Fences opened in two theaters in New York and Los Angeles on December 16, and was expected to gross $50–$75,000 per theater in its limited opening weekend. It ended up making a total of $128,000, good for a per-theater average of $32,000. The film went into wide release (2,223 theaters) on Christmas Day and grossed $6.7 million; over its first two days it made $11.5 million.
On review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 93% based on 204 reviews, with critics praising both Washington and Davis's performance. The film has an average rating of 7.7/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "From its reunited Broadway stars to its screenplay, the solidly crafted Fences finds its Pulitzer-winning source material fundamentally unchanged – and still just as powerful." On Metacritic, the film has a score of 79 out of 100, based on 48 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews". Audiences surveyed by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "A–" on an A+ to F scale.
Steve Pulaski of Influx Magazine gave the film an A+, saying, "August Wilson keenly summarized the pitfalls and hardships of the black community by making slice-of-life dramas and intimately written poems like "The Janitor," and Fences works to capture that by presenting us with characters that aren't easily defined and moments that are enthralling in how impacting they can be." Ty Burr of the Boston Globe wrote, "You don't get groundbreaking cinema from Fences, but what you do get - two titanic performances and an immeasurable American drama - makes up for that."
In a negative review, David Edelstein of New York wrote, "It's not cinematic enough to make you forget you're watching something conceived for another, more spatially constricted medium, but it's too cinematic to capture the intensity, the concentration, of a great theatrical event."
in the playwright’s native Hill District in 1957.
expanded ... to 2,223 theaters yesterday after keeping it in limited release for the last 10 days. The August Wilson adaptation earned a smashing $6.688 million opening day, ... long term predictions are challenging for this $20-$25m production ... but this is a smashingly impressive single-day debut for a film that will absolutely be a big part of the Oscar conversation. It has earned $11.528m thus far.
In other "new wide release" news, Paramount/Viacom Inc. expanded the Denzel Washington/Viola Davis drama Fences to 2,223 theaters yesterday
There's a literal fence at the center of Fences, but it doesn't resonate onscreen the way it does onstage. It's not a living metaphor. Troy, a gifted baseball player, was fenced-out of the major leagues when he was young but was too old to strut his stuff when he emerged after a long stint in prison. Now, he sees fences everywhere. The fence that he's building, though, underscores the barrier he has erected between him and his sons, one from each of his marriages.
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