Denzel Washington Delivers 'Fences'

Brandon Caldwell | 12/30/2016, 7:15 a.m.
The heart of Denzel Washington in “Fences” is that he’s complicated, but when he is not? For the past four ...

“You’re not going to like me too much in this one.”

The heart of Denzel Washington in “Fences” is that he’s complicated, but when he is not? For the past four decades now, Washington has made a career out of complicated. The flawed hero is an acting archetype that should be renamed after Washington’s image. Cold stares; wide smiles; powerful monologues; internal discussion that dares anyone near him to be sucked into his orbit.

And he’s correct, you shouldn’t “like” him in “Fences”, the film adaptation of August Wilson’s Tony award winning play. As Troy Maxson, he’s not only holding on to the fleeting glory of being a Negro League star too old to transition into the major leagues, he’s also restrictive as a parent to his son, Cory. A football scholarship be damned, no son of Troy Maxson will play sports. And his relationship with his wife, Rose played by Viola Davis? Even more complicated thanks to the curveball found halfway through the film. There’s subdued power, there’s shock and awe and then there’s what Washington and Davis deliver on the screen in the film.

Their journey throughout the film is one Washington calls, “from hell to hallelujah”. “Fences”, the most popular of Wilson’s Pittsburgh Cycle is the first in a ten-picture deal Washington has with HBO to bring the entire cycle to life. "Fences" is the only one in which he’s acting and directing. He will executive produce the other nine as they head to HBO, with “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” being the next film in line. “I’ve been given the opportunity by the August Wilson estate, he did 10 plays—I’m directing, producing and acting in one, and I’m executive producing the other nine,” Washington said in 2015. “I made a deal with HBO. We’re going to do one a year for the next nine years.”

He confirmed it again during a “Fences” conference call last week, his voice just as rich and full of assured bombast. “This is a 15 year project of mine and I'm going to take care of August Wilson. Nothing is going to get in my way.”

At 62, nothing has seemed to slow Washington down. Always dashing with a smile that could elicit both fear and warmth, the actor has set himself as the standard in Hollywood. His name is a mononym, synonymous with other singular name actors by whom you recognize with the smallest utterance of their names. You know Denzel almost like a family member. While in Pittsburgh filming “Fences”, the community who came out to see the show felt that way too.

People walked out of their doors and saw camera crews. The initial curiosity would draw anyone out of their own comfort zones. Once onlookers realized that it was Washington along with Davis and a film crew set to retell Wilson’s vision of a Pittsburgh family, more people followed. The extras on set were merely those who had seen different “fences” throughout their lifetime. The hard-working husband and stay-at-home wife trying to mend their differences every day in order to make a marriage work. A man who chases deferred dreams and attempts to shield his son away through tough love.