Under the Radar

Home Video: 'Fences'

Fences (out now on Blu-ray, DVD and On Demand) tells the story of a working-class father whose contrary ways drive his son to enlist in the United States Marine Corps.

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That's not exactly the pitch from the studio. Denzel Washington directs and stars in the film based on August Wilson's Pulitzer Prize-winning play as Troy Maxson, a former Negro League baseball player who's working as a garbageman in 1950s Pittsburgh. He's got an older son (Russell Hornsby), a stint in prison behind him and a second wife (Viola Davis) who's given him a second son (Jovan Adepo) who aspires to play college football. The family lives in a house paid for by a settlement from WWII head injuries suffered by Maxson's brother (Mykelti Williamson), injuries that have caused a severe disability and violent outbursts. Maxson spends a lot of time drinking with his work friend (Stephen McKinley Henderson) and not building the fence he's promised his wife.

Since it's based on a play, there's a lot of acting going on here. Viola Davis won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar this year for a fantastic performance (even though there's no way she's not playing a leading role). The film was also nominated for Best Picture, Washington was nominated for Best Actor and August Wilson was nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay for a script he completed before his death in 2005.

Troy's a flawed man. He screws up his kid's shot at a college scholarship, he screws up his marriage and he screws up his friendships. There are a lot of people of all races who struggle through life without a real shot at security and stability and Washington (the director) has made a movie for all of them.

Washington, Davis, Hornsby, Williamson and Henderson repeat their performances from an acclaimed 2010 Broadway revival directed by Kenny Leon. That production won Tony Awards for Best Revival of a Play, Best Actor in a Play (Denezel), and Best Actress in a Play (Viola Davis).

There are some good bonus featurettes included with the release, but this is definitely one of those films that could've used a detailed commentary track from Denzel Washington.

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