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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Denzel Washington and Viola Davis star in Fences, which was adapted by playwright August Wilson from his own play. It's a powerful drama that deals with intense subjects including infidelity, prejudice, crime and punishment, father/son anger, and forgiveness -- as well as perseverance. So, while things like sexual and violent content aren't graphic, the film is still likely too intense for younger viewers. You can expect infrequent swearing (including "s--t") and very frequent use of the "N" word, as well as drinking, verbal and physical confrontations, the description of a murder, and a frank conversation about an affair.
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What's the story?
In this adaptation of August Wilson's masterful play FENCES, Troy Maxson (Denzel Washington) is a hardworking garbage collector trying to find his place in a 1950s world that still judges him by the color of his skin and places high expectations on him as a man and a father. Though he was a gifted athlete, Troy's opportunities in the Negro League landed him nothing but a dead-end job (and an earlier stint in prison); his brutal childhood still haunts him. But Troy seemingly doesn't see how the sins of his father have imprinted themselves on him, shaping the way he relates to his sons (Jovan Adepo and Russell Hornsby). By his side for many years has stood his wife, Rose (Viola Davis), who also suffers from the expectations placed upon her, sometimes by Troy himself.
Is it any good?
Wilson's screenplay, based on his own award-winning play, is a potent brew that warms your stomach upon the first swig and then simmers to a boil. It's intense, exhausting, and worth it. Washington directs as well as stars, and he takes great care to stay faithful to the source material, keeping things clear and pared down, so that the language and story's inherent drama can do the talking.
Though the action doesn't literally stay in one spot, the film's stage roots are evident in the way that almost everything takes place in one house. But this serves the story, echoing the constriction that Troy, Rose, and their sons feel. All the actors are superb, particularly Davis, who plays Rose with empathy, understanding, and texture. When she finally utters a fateful sentence toward the end of the film, you feel it slice through your heart. Fences will take some discipline and effort to stick with it in its cinematic form, stripped of the electricity of live theater, but it's still masterful.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the themes in Fences. How does it depict parenthood and marriage? How does Troy's experience with racism shape him -- and, as a result, his world view?
Do you consider the characters role models? Why or why not?
Have you seen other movies based on plays? How does this one compare? What do they tend to have in common?
- In theaters: December 16, 2016
- On DVD or streaming: March 14, 2017
- Cast: Denzel Washington, Viola Davis, Mykelti Williamson
- Director: Denzel Washington
- Studio: Paramount Pictures
- Genre: Drama
- Character strengths: Perseverance
- Run time: 138 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: thematic elements, language and some suggestive references
- Awards/Honors: Academy Award, Golden Globe
- Last updated: September 20, 2019
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