There’s a saying that goes, “Most parents do the best they can with what they have.” This is one of the truths embodied within the film Fences, directed by and starring Denzel Washington. The film is epic in nature and the drama at times is intense, yet in the characters we see a reality that often times reflects that which we see in our own or in others’ lives.  

The setting is a lower middle-class section of Pittsburgh in the mid-1950s. Washington’s character, Troy Maxson is introduced as he heads home from his job as a city sanitation worker accompanied by one of his oldest friends, Jim Bono, played by Stephen Henderson (Manchester by the Sea, Lincoln.) The two are jovial; it is the end of the work week and they share a fifth of liquor as they walk through the neighborhood. As the afternoon winds down, we are introduced to Rose Maxson, Troy’s devoted wife, superbly played by Viola Davis (The Help, Get on Up) and Troy’s adult son Lyons, played by actor Russell Hornsby. When Lyons asks to borrow ten dollars from his father, an angry tirade ensues in which Troy lectures on the prudence of financial responsibility and caring for one’s own family. Washington’s character takes every opportunity to deal a verbal lashing throughout the film on every topic from finances to parenthood to personal responsibility, yet the viewer doesn’t seem to get an insight into exactly what Troy’s motivation is in unleashing his perceptions of life.  

One fact, however, remains clear: Troy once had the talent to be a great baseball player but was denied his opportunity due to racism, and his resentment over a lost opportunity has never subsided. By the time Jackie Robinson made it into the Major Leagues, breaking the color barrier, Troy was too old to play. It is this resentment which is the impetus for Troy to step in and destroy the dream his other son, Cory, has of playing sports. When a college football recruiter takes an interest in Cory’s athletic skill, Troy quickly puts the dream to an end, clearly squashing all hope for Cory, played by newcomer Jovan Adepo, to escape to a better life for himself.  

The marital union between Troy and Rose is strained as Troy stubbornly insists he is only doing what he thinks is right for his sons. Later in the story that union is strained even more when Troy tells Rose that he will soon be a father to another woman’s child. How Davis’ character deals with this crisis is confirmation of the strength which seemingly wells up from inside her. This latest revelation, however, costs Troy his relationship with Cory.  

There is no lightheartedness to this narration. The story is serious and often dark, but it is absorbing. Troy is obviously an angry man and Rose is the tough and sturdy woman who stands beside him. The cast includes Mykelti Williamson (Forrest Gump) as Gabe, Troy’s brother who was mentally impaired during World War II. The film was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Actor in a Leading Role and Best Picture. It won the Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role for Viola Davis.