First Hit: Excellent acting but this film feels like too much a play.
This is Denzel Washington’s film as he was the main character as well as directing it. It is purely a dialogue based film and there is very little space for it to breathe.
I’m not sure that it could have been done differently as August Wilson who wrote the play also wrote the screenplay. Additionally, Washington and Viola Davis did this on Broadway and therefore their experience as these characters was play based.
Washington as Troy Maxson is a garbage collector (lifter) for the city of Pittsburg. His wife Rose (Davis) takes care of the home. One point made in the film is that Rose manages the money because each Friday he brings home his envelope with $76.00 and he gives it to her. He expounds on this time and time again throughout this film as a way to state who really controls the home in his eyes. They have a home partially purchased by a settlement given to his brother Gabriel (Mykelti Williamson) because he’s got a metal plate in his head. Troy has a sense of guilt about this.
His best friend Jim Bono (Stephen Henderson) is also a lifter and together they talk all day as they lift garbage cans into their truck. Troy protests, asking the city why all the drivers are white and when he’s called down to the commissioner’s office instead of being punished, he’s made a driver.
Troy tells stories in the backyard while drinking gin with Bono. His son Cory (Jovan Adepo) wants his dad to sign football scholarship papers so that he can go to college. Troy refuses because he says nothing will come of it, just as nothing came from his self-aggrandizing baseball abilities. He doesn’t understand that Cory just wants a good education at a good college.
Troy and Rose also have another older son named Lyons (Russell Hornsby) who isn’t willing to work like his dad and wants to be a musician. Unfortunately, he must borrow money from time to time and Troy gives him a hard time each time he asks.
This film is about a man rebelling about his fenced in life, his transgressions, and his son coming out from the control of his father. It is a story that has roots in most families where there are fathers having different plans for their son’s life. This is also a story about friendship in addition to how Troy demeans his own integrity and life by introducing his way to have more freedom.
The sets are simple. There are a couple scenes of Troy working, many backyard and inside their home scenes, and a couple of front yard scenes. I felt as though the backyard sets were very staged for the dialogue and not realistic.
Washington was very strong. He commanded every scene. Davis was wonderful and when it was time for her to shine, she did. Henderson was fantastic as the lifelong friend. Hornsby was good as the older son and Adepo was very strong as the younger son who wanted to find a way out of his current life. Williamson was amazing as the mentally limited brother. His horn blowing scene at the end was sublime. The script by Wilson was too play like and therefore didn’t make use of the big screen. Washington was hampered by both the script and his experience with the play.
Overall: This is a much better play than film.