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