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Stars: Denzel Washington, Viola Davis, Jovan Adepo, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Russell Hornsby, Mykelti Williamson

Director: Denzel Washington

Despite outstanding performances from Washington and Davis, Fences remains not so much a film as a filmed version of a stage success - which is what it was.

The events almost all take place in the backyard of 53-year-old refuse collector Troy Maxson's Pittsburgh home in 1956. The black man's lot is still not a happy one, but Washington's Maxson is content with grumbling about it with his friend and fellow dustman Bono (Henderson).

Tight-fisted and stubborn, Maxson rules his little castle, around which he's always threatening to build a fence, with rod of iron. He denies his 17-year-old son Cory (Adepo) the opportunity to play (American) football and refuses to lend his other son Lyons (Hornsby), a 34-year musician, a measly 10 dollars.

He enjoys shooting the breeze with his wife of 18 years (Davis) and Bono, but, as we gradually learn throughout this long, worthy and deliberately-paced film, genial Maxson is a man with feet of clay. He left home at 14, can't read and fathered a child at 19.

He has a brother (Williamson) who has been left simple-minded as a result of a World War II head injury, and a far darker secret - a mistress who is about to give birth.

Once a baseball star in pre-war 'coloured' leagues, Maxson uses the sport as an analogy for his perpetual mental battle with the Grim Reaper. 'That's all death is to me,' he brags. 'A fast ball on the outside corner.'

Director Washington seems in no hurry to rush things in a film that suffers from a lack of movement, never escaping its theatrical origins.

David Quinlan

USA 2016. UK Distributor: Paramount. Technicolor.
138 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 12A.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 0, Drugs 0, Swearing 0.

Review date: 06 Feb 2017