Fences

Director: Denzel Washington (2017) BBFC cert: 12A

Hollywood heavy hitter Denzel Washington steps up to the plate to try for an Oscar home run in this compelling family drama.

Given this powerhouse performance as a baseball loving binman, a record equalling third Oscar win is well within Washington’s striking distance.

Nominated for best actor, Washington stars as a middle-aged illiterate with a prison record. Troy is restless with frustration at his life and has an authoritarian streak when dealing with his wife and children.

Despite preaching responsibility, Troy is revealed as a hypocrite capable of monstrous behaviour towards those closest to him.

Though Washington also produces and directs, this is far from a one-man show. He is merely the leader of an exceptional yet small cast. Russell Hornsby and Jovan Adepo are terrific as Troy’s sons.

Lyons is a broke musician, the result of a youthful relationship. Teenage Cory is an aspiring sportsman and the product of Troy’s marriage to Rose. Clinging to her hard earned dignity as Troy’s wife, the magnificently moving Viola Davis is deservedly favourite for the best supporting actress Oscar.

Young Saniyya Sidney appears briefly as Troy’s daughter Raynell. She raises a smile with her every word.

Washington directs with sensitive economy, barely moving from the main location of the backyard where Troy is erecting a fence. A lack of visual flair is more than compensated for by the actors’ ability and the virtuosity of the writing.

The script has been Oscar nominated for best Adapted Screenplay, and is based on the Pulitzer Prize winning Broadway play of the same name.

The setting is very specific to the African-American experience of 1950s Pittsburgh. However the story explores universal ideas of masculinity, marriage and fatherhood. This means it reaches across the fences of time, location and race to speak to the widest possible audience.

To paraphrase the famous baseball commentary, it’s a story that can be heard round the world.

@ChrisHunneysett

The Equalizer

Director: Antoine Fuqua (2014)

British TV series The Equalizer gets a full Hollywood make-over in this glossy and violent action thriller.

Even sillier than the original it’s now a patriotic vigilante fantasy about defending homely American values against imported Russian vices.

The late Edward Woodward is replaced by Denzil Washington as widowed ex-CIA agent Robert McCall .

Played by Washington McCall can’t help but be charismatically charming and an impressively mean physical presence.

Living quietly, assisting colleagues with their careers and being an all-round good egg, he even finds the time for a little song and dance routine.

He’s moved to help local prostitute Teri (Chloë Grace Moretz) when she’s hospitalised by her Russian Pimp Slavi (David Meunier).

Armed only with the novels of Hemingway and Mark Twain, McCall visits the gangsters and attempts to buy her freedom.

They reject his offer, there’s some peculiar and unnecessary stuff with a stopwatch and it ends impressively badly for them.

So evil oligarch Pushkin (Vladimir Kulich)  sends over his badass fixer, the sharp suited and silver-tongued Teddy (Marton Csokas).

AsTeddy begins hunting down McCall with the help of corrupt cops, our hero jets off to see his former boss Susan Plummer (Melissa Leo) to warn her of the violence to come.

There’s no real reason for this but it’s a handy excuse to include a helicopter; this sort of film has to have a helicopter. And a dockside gunfight. And really big explosions to stride heroically away from towards the camera.

Washington does give good stride.

Action scenes are deftly handled but a strong opening is squandered and plot-holes are scattered all about as it descends into silly brutality.

Director Antoine Fuqua once made the brilliant Training Day (also with Washington) but now lifts all Guy Ritchie’s slow motion action moves but without the same elan.

The bloody finale takes place in a hardware store. A venue that always signifies the honest, hardworking, independence of American men – and provide McCall with a variety of grisly weapons.

Eventually good-hearted Yanks overcome a wave of Russians, embrace redemption, education and self-reliance while wrapping themselves up in the stars and stripes.

★★☆☆☆