Denzel Washington; he directs and stars in this complicated story about Troy Maxson who is a New York City garbage worker in the 1950’s and complains “…how come only the white man gets to be a driver and none of the coloreds.” And Troy uses the “N” word routinely and tells his wife Rose (Viola Davis) to “…get back in the house, Woman, this is man’s talk.”
Troy screams that he “ain’t scare of death; death ain’t nothing but a fast ball on the outside of the plate; I batted .432… the white man won’t let that boy get no scholarship….” His buddy tells Troy that “you got more stories than the devil’s got sinners.” So, Troy starts telling a story about the devil with a clipboard and payment of a ten-dollar debt that took 15 years.
Words matter and this movie is based on the 1987 Pulitzer prize-winning play by August Wilson (died in 2005) who was stung by racism as a young, struggling writer so he had a special insight into the black man’s challenges because of the color of his skin. Denzel plays Troy as a pompous, hard drinker (gin) who is too smart for his britches, but Wilson’s story and themes allow Denzel to also show a sensitive and likeable side of Troy Maxson.
Therefore, this film is important as it attempts to capture the Black Family experience during the Jim Crow years of the 50’s in Manhattan. Much of the movie is set in the Maxson’s concrete back yard where we are introduced to his drinking buddy and co-worker Jim Bono beautifully played by 67 year-old Stephen Henderson. I fear that Henderson will get overlooked as Best Supporting Actor because of the super-powerful performances by Denzel and Viola Davis, but watching Henderson work his craft to the fullest was a treat.
When Viola Davis is introduced as a nominee as Best Supporting Actress on the evening of February 26th at the 89th Oscars presentation, I predict that her tearful and slobbering, heart-breaking scene with Troy in that backyard will jump out on the big screen and the voters will fondly remember why they voted for her.
This is a perfect role for Denzel because he owned Troy. James Earl Jones had a memorable run on Broadway in 1987 as Troy Maxson, but Denzel has made Troy his special brand of anger, love, and obligation that will surely garner a nomination for Best Actor.
This is the first directorial gig for Denzel, at age 64, since his 2007 production of “The Great Debaters” so I suspect that he has invested his money and his soul in making this very revealing movie about the African American experience in this country and few are more suited or equipped than the big dog – Denzel Washington. This is a must see. Rock ‘n Roll.
Grade 93. Larry H.