"The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence" is a theme of many of life's lessons in literature, film and plays...dating way back! It echoes that other saying, "Be care of what you wish, you might just get it." That is the basis of the film adaptation of August Wilson's play "Fences", starring Denzel Washington and Viola Davis.


It is one of the set of plays Wilson called "The Pittsburgh cycle that focused on the African American experience through the decades; "Fences" is set in the 1950s when the Civil Rights movement was starting to gain momentum. Things are very slowly starting to integrate...very slowly.


This story picks up with Troy (Denzel Washington) in a lively discussion with his old friend and co-worker Bono (Stephen Henderson) about their jobs, race relations at the job and Troy's concern that he will get fired because of a question he asked his boss. You see, Troy and Bono are garbage collectors - on the back of the truck. The drivers were all white. Troy wondered aloud why there weren't any black drivers.

This is a dialogue rich, rapid-fire discussion that last a solid twenty minutes. It introduces Troy, Bono, Troy's wife Rose (Viola Davis) and eventually Troy's eldest son Lyons (Russell Hornsby), Troy's brother Gabriel (Mykelti Williamson) and Troy's youngest son Cory (Jovan Adepo).


After discussing the job, they go on to discussing how Troy has sex with Rose, Lyons borrowing $10 from Troy, the elements of finding a good mate and Troy's days playing baseball in the Negro leagues and his inability to make it into the white leagues like Jackie Robinson. It is Troy's distaste for segregation in baseball that gives him reason to deny Cory the chance to go to college on a football scholarship.


On the surface, everything seems mostly okay, with a mostly normal family life in the 50's - father works, mother is a housekeeper, sons try to please dad. But things are all what they seem.

When we meet Gabriel, we quickly find out that he was injured during the war and left mentally handicapped. He could live with Troy and Rose, but has chosen to take a room elsewhere in a neighborhood that doesn't appreciate his condition.


We also learn that Troy might be stepping outside of marraige with a woman with whom he's been friendly. Bono, notices it, but it is quickly dismissed by Troy. But Troy's character comes into play as not being who he pretends to be. In fact, Troy devolves into a rather despicable man as his life begins to unravel.


But he never concedes his guilt. He never concedes that he probably wasn't chose for regular baseball because he was just too old, not just because of his color. You see his determination to consider himself right even as everyone around him starts to put distance between them.


To say the least, the acting is a clinic. Denzel is amazing, but Viola is even better. You will be totally affected by her character as she shows that she is the most decent of people - strong, determined and resilient. Henderson has never been better and is, ironically in "Manchester by the Sea" - yet another dialogue rich film focusing on human frailties. Adepo nails his first big-time role opposite Denzel and Viola.


Denzel and Viola got a head start, in that they played the same characters in the Broadway revival in 2010. This film literally takes the play from the stage to the screen; beautifully. Very little is changed.


"Fences" is a dynamic, powerfully adapted story with tremendous acting that will tug at all your emotions from joy, sorrow, disgust, pity and elation. Watch for lots of awards considerations.   -- GEOFF BURTON