Denzel Washington is the man.
He emits a palpable decency as an actor (e.g., Philadelphia, 1993). He's vulnerable and human. He is one of the most likable actors on the screen.
But in role after role he also reveals another side. It's negative force. It's a dark potency.
He won an Oscar for his portrayal as an immoral cop in Training Day (2001), and he captured the provocative, flawed natures of actual figures Rubin Carter in The Hurricane (1999) and the powerful activist in Malcolm X (1992). Denzel starred as a brutal criminal in American Gangster (2007), and he was a fallible pilot in Flight (2012).
Sometimes when we expect the good Denzel to appear, he never does.
Such is the case with Denzel's performance as Troy Maxson in Fences. The character is stubborn and unyielding. We expect him to become more sensitive to the needs of others and to accept them. He never does. He never lets go.
August Wilson's play, Fences was originally on Broadway in 1987. James Earl Jones and Mary Alice played Troy and his wife Rose. They both won Tonys, and the play won a Tony and the Pulitzer Play for Drama.
Fences was revived on Broadway - five years after Wilson's death - with Denzel Washington and Viola Davis in the leads. They both won Tonys.
Fences is now a film with Washington and Davis reprising their roles, and Denzel directing for the first time. Joining the duo from the stage are Stephen Henderson as Troy's best friend Bono, Mykelti Williamson as his mentally-injured brother, and Russell Hornsby as his older son Lyons.
Missing is the music by Branford Marsalis, which was evocative between scenes on stage.
Fences is the story of Troy Maxson (Washington), a former baseball player in the Negro League, a felon, and now a trash man in Pittsburgh. His dreams have died, so he is not in favor of others having dreams. Troy is a pragmatist. He fundamentally is dedicated to having a job and keeping bread on the table, and raising his voice in total domination.
His family has no say in their life. His son Cory (Jovan Adepo) has had success as a football player, but Troy doesn't accept it. His wife Rose (Viola Davis) has no life of her own.
Troy's rule is challenged. His character remains stubborn and petty. Denzel petty? Pettiness is essential to the character of Troy.
The best part of Fences is the acting by Washington and Davis. They give powerhouse performances.
Denzel doesn't have the bombast of the original James Earl Jones (the voice of Darth Vader), but he does have command of language. So too does Viola Davis.
Their emotion shatters Fences.