Denzel Washington and Oscar-winner Viola Davis. Picture: PARAMOUNT PICTURES
Denzel Washington and Oscar-winner Viola Davis. Picture: PARAMOUNT PICTURES

The films Moonlight and Fences take us down the steamy streets of America. Both are abstracted from stage shows, though they differ in their approach.

I believe Moonlight is the film of the year. But I’m still immeasurably struck by the quality of acting in Fences. Denzel Washington (who waited for years to get the movie made after August Wilson, who wrote the original, died) as Troy, and his wife Rose (Viola Davis) live out their emotionally agitated lives in a Pittsburgh suburb.

They hold centre stage (the film is narrowed down to resemble stage sets) and bicker, not least about the various relatives and folk who wander in.

There’s Bono (Stephen Henderson), Troy’s buddy from the time they were in prison together, Troy for a never-regretted murder. Among the sons, we have the embittered Cory (Jovan Adepo) and a semiextraneous batch, particularly the disabled brother Lyons (Russell Hornsby), and an unwanted child (Saniyya Sidney). Troy’s brother Gabriel (Mykelti Williamson) has been brain damaged in Korea and thrown out of the house by Troy.

In short, Troy is an unpleasant man and hardly rises to anything like real manhood except towards the end, by which time Washington’s presence — vile as it often is — has won us over in cinematic terms.

Troy and Rose are, one realises, just like us; that’s all of us, and the play could have been written by Tennessee Williams — alcohol, resentments and all. Part of adulthood entails accepting this unpalatable fact about one’s parents — and oneself.

These people are real, Troy at his daily task of cleaning out rubbish, the others drinking and fighting, and Rose unleashing her tongue. (Troy restricts his drinking to one day a week and keeps it there.) Rose is especially convincing.

Fences is devoid of middle-class pretence. In all, a terrific and even uplifting film. It’s no surprise that Davis won the Oscar this week.

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