A rowdy father who flatters his wife and supports his kids the only way he knows how is faced with constant dilemmas during the days of segregated America. His heyday in the Negro Leagues gave him confidence, but the pressure of racism and segregation always kept him at bay.
It’s understood we learn the majority of lessons from our parents. What they experienced growing up becomes the foundation that shapes the reality around us. Their influence, poise, and demeanor gets passed down from generation to generation. In most cases, we become the same people our parents are/were. But as times change, the young minds can also be influenced by their surroundings. Growing up is hard, and the steady flow of influence never ceases. The sad times of segregation and suppression of African-Americans lasted for generations, but eventually those tides changed. It was a difficult time for the young to show their elders they don’t have to be scared of the ‘white man.’ But lessons learned and habits long made are the hardest ones to break. It can even destroy families.
Troy Maxson (Denzel Washington) is a garbage collector who was a big deal in the Negro Baseball Leagues. His time in the League proved to be a difficult one, due to the fact he could never play in the ‘real’ Pros. Despite being incredibly talented and a valuable asset to any Pro team, he eventually gave up on pursuing a career in baseball. From that point on he focused on building a home and life for his family. His wife, Rose Maxson (Viola Davis), continues to be the sparkle in his eye even after several long years of marriage. She’s the rock of the family, while Troy and his best friend and co-worker, Jim Bono (Stephen Henderson), cut up and drink every day after work. Troy never became the great star he could have, but still shines with an abundance of confidence. This comes off as comedic for the most part, but these were harsh times. Viewers are constantly reminded how hard life was for a black man in those days.
Troy has a couple of boys who look up to him, but strive for more in their lives. The oldest, Lyons (Russell Hornsby), pursues music, but has issues making ends meet. It seems like he’s always coming by on Troy’s payday too. The younger son, Cory (Jovan Adepo), discovers he’s pretty good at football, and wants to pursue the Pros. Troy doesn’t care for either of these pursuits, and he always has something to say about it. Both of the boys try to blow off their father’s concerns, but this isn’t so easy for Cory since he still lives at home. Even when he’s proven to be a real Pro contender, Troy does everything he can to crush his son’s dreams. It’s a sad revelation that he can’t seem to break. Troy is only trying to protect his son, but doesn’t recognize that the world he grew up in is changing. This causes some intense turmoil within the family. These fights are just one of many factors that nearly destroy this once nuclear family.
Think Troy can change his ways and become supportive of his talented sons before it breaks the family apart? You’ll have to tune in to find out!
Enough about that…let’s take a look at what this Blu-ray has to offer.
The menu consists of a static image of Viola and Denzel staring off into the distance with smiles. The menu options are listed along the bottom of the screen, and include: play, settings, scenes, and extras. The ‘Settings’ option allows viewers to choose the audio and subtitle tracks for the film. The Audio options include: English 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, and English Audio Description. The Subtitle tracks include: English, English SDH, French, and Spanish. The ‘Scenes’ option displays five chapters at a time. Each one is numbered and includes a snapshot from the scene. Bookmarks are accessible from this sub-menu as well.
Now let’s check out the bonus features included with this release!
– Expanding the Audience: From Stage to Screen (8:53 HD): Some folks may not know this was actually a play to start with. The fast and constant dialog is a clue, but other than that it just seems like a period piece. Denzel wanted to bring the genius of August Wilson to a larger audience, and decided it could easily translate to the big screen. This feature takes a closer look at how the film came about, and the way it was shot. Using the same cast from the play was key to maintaining the realism and emotion as it was seen on the stage. I think he nailed it!
– The Company of Fences (9:17 HD): This feature takes a closer look at why Denzel and company decided to maintain the stage cast for the big screen. The cast had such great chemistry from working together, so it simply made sense to do the film this way. The actors felt it was an honor and a privilege that partake in this production.
– Building Fences: Denzel Washington (6:56 HD): Denzel knew this was an important film. It’s not just a story, but a representation of American history. It was a sad time of repression and segregation. The struggles between the African-American families was real, raw, and needed to be portrayed flawlessly by the cast. Denzel made sure to push his fellow actors were up to par for this film.
– Playing the Part: Rose Maxson (6:57 HD): Viola knew this would be an important role to take on. She’s beautiful, strong, and the one who has to hold the family together. Rose represented all African-American women of that era. She didn’t have a lot of choices, and went with the best one that worked for her. The events that unfold half way through we’re nerve-racking and unfathomable. She eventually reaches a breaking point, but still handled it with grace. Seeing Viola in this role only makes me appreciate her that much more. She did a fantastic job.
– August Wilson’s Hill District (6:25 HD): The Hill District was an important part of August’s screenplays. It sets the stage, and becomes a character in itself. The Hill District was a main feature that allowed the actors to interact with. This was the actual place August came from, so there was no question about filming there. The District contains a great deal of history. This added more energy than the actors could ever experience. It was very real to them, and propelled their performances. It also paid homage to August Wilson and his legacy.
Now let’s take a look at the technical side of this release.
The 1080p HD image comes with an aspect ratio of 2.39:1, so there will be black bars along the top and bottom of your HDTV. No need to worry though, as this fast-paced, dialog-driven film will draw your attention from beginning to end. Viewers will completely forget those pesky bars were there. As a period piece, viewers will quickly discover the majority of the color palette is cool in nature. There’s countless shades of brown, green, grey, and a variety of muddy blues throughout. When an object of distinct color comes into the frame it really pops. This could be something as simple as a yellow pan on the stove, but it pops nonetheless. The overall image clarity is top notch, and produces plenty of detail to be seen. There’s a richness to the entire film. It’s very natural, clear, and fully of character. One could suggest the backyard of the Maxson home is a character in itself. Close-ups reveal a wealth of detail as well. Viewers will be able to could the pores and the beads of sweat that form on some of the actor’s faces. It’s quite remarkable for such a calm color scheme.
The 7.1 dts-HD Master Audio provides some nice ambient effects, but don’t expect to be blown away by this audio track. This film is primarily dialog-driven, and the musical score is incredibly subtle. This was a play to start, which had no music score during the performance, so adding one for the film was not a necessity. Nevertheless, can you image a film with no music at all in the background? Thus, there had to be some musical cues now and again. The instrument of choice was a piano. It was always light. That said, the dialog was solid from beginning to end. The majority of the dialog comes from one person at a time. As soon as one character finishes, another replies. It’s like a train that just keeps rolling on. In a good way!
Overall, Fences is a really good movie. It depicts a time many may have forgotten, and from a perspective many haven’t seen before. It was a hard time for African-Americans in those days, yet could be filled with laughter on a regular basis. Denzel, Viola Davis, and every other actor in this film brought their epic performances from the stage to the big screen. They paid tribute to August Wilson’s legacy by shooting the film in his hometown, and did so beautifully. Viola won multiple awards for her portrayal of Rose, and deserved even more recognition. Hell, all the actors did a spectacular job. Bravo!
If you are looking for a beautiful story that involves love, struggle and family…look no further. You’ll have to check out Fences on Blu-ray!