Summary: An African-American father struggles with race relations in the United States while trying to raise his family in the 1950s and coming to terms with the events of his life.
Important to note: August Wilson wrote the play, this is NOT an original work by Denzel Washington.
Cast and Characters. Such a rich set of characters, also very contained being that it is based on a play.
Denzel Washington as Troy Maxson. He is a 50 something man, working as a garbage pickup and he is quite firm in his ways. He often talks about his fight with Death and he makes a lot of references towards Baseball as he could have made it, he was just too old. He loves his wife, talks about “loving” her quite a lot, has interesting relationships with both of his sons and makes a lot of mistakes. This character is interesting and I can only say so much without spoiling him. He is kind of sad too. Denzel Washington plays this character with natural charisma because that’s Denzel lol. When he’s being humorous he’s funny and charming, when he’s talking about his childhood and adolescent years, he talks with a haunted look and tone. Whenever he’s being pushy, he’s intimidating and he’s scary sometimes. Denzel pulls all of that off so well.
Viola Davis as Rose Maxson. Ooo boy, I love me some Viola Davis first of all. Rose is Troy’s wife, and she is a good woman. During this time, black women often didn’t have jobs, they mostly stayed home and perhaps were very active in their churches. That’s the kind of role she played in their life, she was also Troy’s backbone. She was compassionate, loving and cared for everyone who was in their life, or entered their home. The way she handled the men in her life, was definitely interesting and I do think we learn more about her later. More about her pain that rivals her love and Viola does so well with this. I believed she was this woman, she lived in this house for all of these years…amazing.
Stephen McKinley Henderson as Jim Bono. He’s Troy’s best friend and he serves as the audience a lot for Troy’s monologues (which I think is obvious to tell he is really from the play). If he wasn’t there, then Troy would be talking to the viewers, so he serves his purpose. Not to mention, with him being the best friend, he is able to speak to Troy in candid ways. I liked the actor, I thought he had this knowing thing about him, where he would look at them a certain way and you knew he knew something lol.
Jovan Adepo as Cory Maxson. He is Troy and Rose’s son, he wants to play Major League football. I think he’s an interesting character, he has to be about 17. When we hear about him Rose talks about him and how good he is at football. When we finally meet him, it’s obvious that he has a strained relationship with his father (mostly it seems on his side, that he feels a certain way towards his father and thinks his father a way about him) and that he loves his mother. As the film goes on, we get more interactions with him, we learn more about him and I think he’s really interesting. Jovan Adepo first reminds me of David Oyelowo and I think he handles his own with Viola and Denzel. This seems to be his first real film, and I do think it shows but I think he does well.
Russell Hornsby as Lyons Maxson. I swear I’ve seen this actor in other things but nothing I actually remember but there is something scary about him. He is Troy’s first son from a different woman and they have an interesting relationship, it’s strained but he comes around, to ask for money but he later also asks for his father to see him play (he’s a struggling musician) and while he needs his father’s help, it seems he also wants his approval. Interesting. I think Russell Hornsby made some good choices with this character, even outside of him talking, just him being there and his facial expressions.
Mykelti Williamson as Gabriel Maxson. Troy’s older brother, he fought in WWII and sustained a head injury which leaves him mentally impaired. He’s so great and tragic like his brother, a lot of people look at him when he’s talking about certain things, with pity in their eyes. It also shows that Troy feels guilty about certain things when it comes to his brother. I think Mykelti did a great job in this role, especially at the end.
Saniyya Sidney as Raynell Maxson. Troy’s daughter, she was definitely cute, without spoiling lol.
The Direction. Wow! A lot of Denzel Washington’s directing choices were fantastic. Being sure to capture the sun as it’s setting, or pulling back to see characters through the bare tree branches, or the way Rose watched Troy from the window build the fence outside. It helped set up the atmosphere of this time period, of these characters lives and to allow the audience to live there with them without thinking “this is a play” due to other camera angles.
The cinematography. Done by Charlotte Bruus Christensen helped enforce the atmosphere of the film. It’s set in the 1950s, and the look of the film reflects that. It almost looks like there’s a slightly film over the camera lens (I don’t know types of lenses lol) to give it this old look. It was great.
The Transition Scene. There’s a beautiful transition to show time passing in the film, a great example of “show don’t tell” where we didn’t need to know how much time passed, we can see it as we pass through snow falling etc.
The Emotions. This type of film calls on all the emotions to be felt, but I definitely cried, mostly towards the end of the film. If you let it, it can hit you in an emotional place. It’s there throughout but I think the ending really seals it closed.
Scene between Troy and Cory. Without spoiling anything, there is a scene between father and son towards the end of the film and it’s SO GOOD. Filmed wonderfully, the acting between the two actors was great and it sucks you right into the moment.
Scene between Troy and Rose. There are a few but you will know the one I’m talking about. Viola Davis killed that scene, she better get a Supporting Actress Nomination.
A Bit Too Wordy. Now, I spoke with my family afterwards and we were talking about this, but I recognize it’s hard to properly cut down August Wilson without removing what was important about the character in the first place, however, I believe that when you adapt a film from a book/play etc, you have to find a happy balance between maintaining character but also removing things that is “too much”. August Wilson had such a way with words, it shows here in this film but there are parts where the monologues or dialogues should have been reduced or cut. As someone who is a reader and a lover of words (I am a writer), I understand but thinking as a casual movie goer, it was a lot.
Example: There was a scene where Troy comes in to tell Rose some good news, for like 5 minutes he does this whole set up for the news… and I’m like “just tell her” and let her react. Because the audience is also waiting to hear the news too. Not to mention, there’s a whole thing after she hears the news and that didn’t have to be there either.