August Wilson wouldn’t entrust the movies with his Pulitzer Prize-winning play Fences (1983) unless it was given to a black director; he’s gotten his wish with Denzel Washington, though Washington doesn’t really direct the story so much as get out of its way. Adapted from a 2010 Broadway revival, this is primarily an actors’ showcase for him as the deeply flawed hero, a former Negro League ballplayer scraping by as a garbage collector in late-50s Pittsburgh; Viola Davis as the man’s loyal wife, who wants a better relationship for him and his teenage son; and Stephen Henderson as his work buddy, who sees a different side of him and tries not to look. The film (2016) was shot on location in Pittsburgh’s Hill District, but the action is so insistently theatrical the frame might as well have a proscenium arch built around it. In the end that doesn’t matter because Wilson’s play is such an extraordinary social statement, its bitter patriarch rivaling Willy Loman in the greatness of his smallness. With Mykelti Williamson and Jovan Adepo.
PG-13 • 2 hours 19 min • 2016