"Fences," now available on-line, is a powerful film about family and responsibility

“Fences,” the 2016 film about an African-American family in 1950s Pittsburgh, is now available on-line. For those who have not yet seen the film, and who enjoy substantive drama, with excellent writing and top-notch acting, I heartily recommend this movie. Fire up the old laptop, desktop or smart TV, pour yourself a glass of wine, and settle back and enjoy this fine screen adaptation of the 1985 Pulitzer Prize-winning drama by August Wilson (who also penned the screenplay, before his 2005 death).

“Fences” may be a signal of a new trend in Hollywood. The film was only released in theaters this past Christmas. Three months later, it’s available on-line. I watched “Fences” the other night via Google Play (play.google.com) for about $4.

Denzel Washington and Viola Davis in "Fences" (Photo credit: David Lee)

Denzel Washington and Viola Davis in “Fences” (Photo credit: David Lee)

So what is the movie about? Briefly, “Fences” is the story of  a family doing their best to get by in working-class Pittsburgh. Troy Maxson, the patriarch and good-hearted bulldog of the clan, is a 53-year old garbage worker who treasures his wife of 18 years, Rose, and believes in responsibility and hard work. Maxson’s sons are Lions, a 34-year old struggling musician who comes by the family home on paydays to borrow money from his father, and Corey, a high school athlete who’s excelling in football and challenging his father’s memories of his own once-promising future in baseball.

How does all of this play out? Well, in the hands of a skilled dramatist like the late August Wilson, these characters’ lives turn in to templates for dealing with the heavy issues of life, death, romance, sex and racism.

But don’t fret. The mood is not all heavy. There’s also a definite light touch here. Like all of us, these characters deal with some weighty issues in their lives. But they also laugh. And joke. And use humor to get by.

The film feels like a play, because it is a play. Most scenes are in the family back yard or inside the family home. That said, the film moves along briskly, and the directing, by its star, Denzel Washington, is expert. Washington has obviously learned a lot about how to make a film from his decades of stellar work in front of the camera.

The fine cinematography is by Charlotte Bruus Christiansen, a 39-year Danish woman whose other films include 2016’s “The Girl on the Train” and 2012’s “The Hunt.” In “Fences,” it seems that Christiansen’s screen palette is often filled with soft tan and brown hues.

Denzel Washington (Photo credit: Paramount Pictures)

Denzel Washington (Photo credit: Paramount Pictures)

As Troy Maxson, Denzel Washington turns in a deep, powerful performance that shows a range of emotions, from light-hearted to deadly. As Rose Maxson, Viola Davis gives an expert performance, that captures her character’s love and tenderness and vulnerability, as well as her toughness and anger. Davis also shows the growth and change of Rose throughout the story’s developments.

Davis won an Academy Award for her performance.

So … if you missed it at the theaters, I recommend watching “Fences” from the comfort of your own home.

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