Tag Archives: Denzel Washington

Over The Fence

Powerful leading performances move ‘Fences’ from stage to screen


Starring Denzel Washington & Viola Davis
Directed by Denzel Washington
In theaters Dec. 25, 2016

Fences can keep things in, keep things out, make it difficult for people to see what’s happening, and mark lines of division, separation or conflict.

Oscar-winning actor Denzel Washington directs as well as stars in this big-screen adaptation of August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning 1987 Broadway play, an epic domestic drama about a black family in Pittsburgh in the mid 1950s.

Washington reprises the lead role of Troy Maxson, a garbage collector and former baseball player haunted by his glory days in the Negro leagues. It’s a role Washington also performed on stage in the play’s 2010 Tony Award-winning Broadway revival, alongside Viola Davis, who also returns to her role as Troy’s long-suffering, loyal wife, Rose.

Much of the movie is set in the scrappy, cramped, grassless backyard of Troy and Rose’s modest brick home, in the shadows of the town’s smoke-belching factories, where Troy spends his weekends working on the construction of a wooden fence. It’s to separate his home from the eyesore of the abandoned house next door.

And it’s obviously a metaphor for much more.

Bono (Stephen McKinley Henderson) and Troy (Denzel Washington) watch Cory (Jovan Adepo) work on Troy’s backyard fence.

Troy is a fiercely proud patriarch who crows about how much he loves Rose, how hard he works, how he deserves a promotion, and how much he’s done to provide for his family. He boasts about what a great baseball player he was (better than the new black players, even Jackie Robinson), and how he danced with death more than once and lived to tell the tale.

But Troy is a jealous bully to his youngest son, Cory (Jovan Adepo), blocking his promising athletic path to college. He’s stingy and dismissive of his oldest son, Lyons (Russell Hornsby), whose easygoing musical ambition doesn’t seem like “real” work. And when his secretive philandering puts his marriage to the test, the world of which he so loudly proclaims himself to be the center begins to crumble.

In a powerful performance, Washington makes Troy both sympathetic and pathetic, a tragic character of almost Shakespearian proportions grappling with fate, family responsibilities, work, racial injustice and carnal desires. You may not like him, or love him, but Washington makes Troy a force of nature you cannot ignore.

And Davis, too, is formidable; she’s already won a Critic’s Choice award, and she’s all but certainly bound for an Oscar nomination. The emotional, confrontational scene where Rose stands up to Troy, and her wounded pride comes spilling out in a fierce spew of anger, hurt, betrayal, tears and snot, goes far deeper than any of the holes Troy’s put in the yard for his fence posts.

Mykelti Williamson plays Gabriel.

Mykelti Williamson plays Gabriel.

Familiar character actor Stephen McKinley Henderson does a great job in a supporting role as Troy’s longtime friend Bono, who serves as the moral compass Troy mostly ignores. Mykelti Williamson, best remembered as Bubba in Forrest Gump, gives a touching performance as Troy’s brother, Gabe, who came back from World War II with a metal plate in his head—and an otherworldly gift.

Sometimes Fences betrays its roots as a Broadway play, with more words than action. But any stilted “staginess” is offset by its commanding performances—especially by Washington. As the star and director, he’s created a majestic movie with both gravity and grace that feels too big, and too significant, to be fenced in by anything.






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Ride ‘Em Cowboy

‘Magnificent Seven’ brings western past into focus with Hollywood present

Vincent D'Onofrio, Martin Sensmeier, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Ethan Hawke, Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt and Byung-hun Lee

Meet the new ‘Magnificent Seven’: Vincent D’Onofrio, Martin Sensmeier, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Ethan Hawke, Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt and Byung-hun Lee

The Magnificent Seven
Starring Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, Peter Sarsgaard & Haley Bennett
Directed by Antoine Fuqua

The western pretty much trotted into the sunset decades ago, but every once in a while something gallops out of Hollywood that reminds us just what a big deal cowboys used to be.

And the cowboy, as depicted and polished by Hollywood and pop culture, remains one of America’s most potent mythic figures—a rugged, rustic, stoic, individualistic, self-sacrificing hero, good with a gun and sometimes even better with women.

The Magnificent Seven gets a lot of its retro dust honestly. For starters, it’s a remake of a remake: The original Seven, in 1960, was an all-star Americanized version of a 1954 Japanese classic, Seven Samurai, in which a samurai warrior and six others band together to defend a village from marauding bandits.

Director Antoine Fuqua certainly knows how to make an action-packed project click into place, with clear-cut lines between good guys and bad guys, a lofty morality-lesson overlay and a dark undertow of bloody revenge.

Denzel Washington;Chris Pratt

Denzel Washington plays bounty hunter Sam Chisholm.

The star here is clearly Denzel Washington—his collaboration with Fuqua in Training Day brought him an Oscar, and the two also worked together in The Equalizer. He plays sure-shot bounty hunter Sam Chisholm, who comes to the aid of a small frontier town under the rule of ruthless robber baron Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard) and his murderous cutthroat bodyguards. Bogue has poisoned the water supply, set fire to the church, enslaved the local men to work in his gold mine and demanded that the residents either sell out, move out—or else.

Beseeched by a firebrand widow (Haley Bennett) whose husband was killed by Bogue’s thugs, Chisholm—whose very name evokes the title of a 1970 John Wayne western, Chisum—assembles a group to help reclaim the town.

The multinational, cross-cultural rainbow coalition looks awesome onscreen, but it feels more like an Old West Suicide Squad—or a colorful team of Avengers assembled by way of High Noon—much more than an organic group of renegades and rogues, despite all the grime, grit, dirt, sweat, stubble and scruff.

Chris Pratt

Chris Pratt

Chris Pratt is heavy-drinking, wisecracking Josh Faraday, whose skill with cards helps him in more ways than one. Ethan Hawke’s erudite former Confederate sharpshooter is haunted by ghosts of his wartime past. His Chinese partner (Byung-hun Lee) can do lethal wonders with any type of blade or firearm.

Manuel Garcia-Rulfo is a hunky Mexican outlaw whose vicious skillset makes him a valuable member of the seven. A young renegade Comanche (Martin Sensmeier) likes the gallant cause and wants to come aboard. Vincent D’Onofrio’s big, Bible-quoting mountain man is a holy terror—and an audience favorite.

Bullets fly, bodies fall, blood flows, hooves thunder, jokey banter gets bantered, dynamite goes ka-boom. There’s a particularly twisty twist at the end that you won’t see coming. You may catch—or imagine—wispy glimpses of the ghosts of Clint Eastwood, John Wayne and other western icons looming and lurking around the edges of some of the scenes.

With a winning combo of gunpowder and star power, The Magnificent Seven brings the cowboy past into focus with the Hollywood present. If you like your popcorn sprinkled with old-fashioned, good-guy gusto, it’s as rip-roaring a time that’s come along on horseback in years.

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

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Bloody Balancing Act

Denzel Washington is avenging angel in re-do of ‘80s TV show

Denzel Washington

The Equalizer

Starring Denzel Washington, Chloë Grace Moretz & Marton Csokas

Directed by Antoine Fuqua

Rated R

A quote from Mark Twain gives a stately, dignified opening to this avenging-angel saga before Denzel Washington gets down to business with some serious lethal skills.

“The two most important days in your life are the day were born and the day you find out why,” reads the words of the great American man of letters, setting the stage for the epiphany that will put Washington’s character, Robert McCall, on a path of bloody retribution after a young teenage prostitute he has kindly befriended (Chloë Grace Moretz) is beaten to a pulp by members of a vicious Russian mob.

Chloe Grace Moretz

Chloë Grace Moretz

Former music-video director Antoine Fuqua, who also steered Training Day and Olympus Has Fallen, continues a “literary” thread throughout the film. Washington’s character is working his way through 100 books “every American should read,” like The Old Man and the Sea and Don Quixote. The chief Russian baddie is named Vladimir Puskin, a mashup of Vladimir Putin, the current Russian president, and Alexander Puskin, one of that country’s iconic authors and poets of yore.

But that’s just a bunch of blah-blah-blah when it comes down to what this movie’s really about, which is Denzel Washington snappin’ necks, slicin’ veins and takin’ names as he unravels a web of crime and corruption that spreads high, low, deep and wide. Some viewers may recall the TV show from the late ’80s, starring British actor Edward Woodward. The flick takes some liberties, but keeps the concept basically the same: When big, bad guys start pushing little, good guys around, someone has to step in and stabilize—“equalize”—things.

And usually, those “things” get violent—and messy. Washington is a fine actor, as he’s demonstrated many times before, but The Equalizer doesn’t gives his character any real depth or dimension as he stoically, sternly navigates the muddy, bloody moral ground of revenge and reprisal. And his “numbness” only adds to the movie’s feel of “dumbness,” of a story that’s punctuated with moments of gory, hyper-stylized action but hollowed out of anything smart, meaningful, purposeful or original.

For her star billing, Morenz has little actual screen time. Melissa Leto and Bill Pullman make late appearances as acquaintances of McCall’s that help explain how such an ordinary-looking guy honed such extraordinary fighting chops. Marton Csokas plays a particularly nasty Russian “fixer”—ladies, believe me, you never want him behind you, purring into your ear, telling you how beautiful you are, slowly wrapping your head in his hands. And roly-poly Johnny Skourtis becomes an audience favorite as one of McCall’s coworkers (at a “big box” home-improvement store) who later comes through in a pinch.

Denzel WashingtonThat “pinch” is the movie’s big climatic showdown between McCall and the Russian mobsters, set in the store, which provides not only a dramatic setting—with long corridors, deep shadows and high ceilings—but also an arsenal of weaponry, including a cordless drill, barbed wire, a tree pruner and a nail gun, for McCall to even the score

Some viewers may cheer the new Equalizer in all his “valiant” violence, at a time and on a planet spinning seemingly out of control with mayhem, madmen and monsters. But I’m willing to bet Mark Twain would probably be aghast at all the angry blood spilled and smeared over his homespun affirmation about coming into this world, and simply finding out what you’re supposed to do now that you’re here.

—Neil Pond, American Profile and Parade magazines

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