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The First Fences Screening Earns Standing Ovation; Denzel Washington and Viola Davis Will be Tough to Beat

Although the film is embargoed for official reviews, the chatter on Twitter about Fences has been enthusiastic, especially around the film’s central performances — Denzel Washington in particular, as the film’s lead, Troy, and Viola Davis as his wife Rose. There is so much to say about this movie, this story, this writing — but I can’t go into it at the moment except to cover the event itself.

The film earned instant applause after several scenes between Washington and other characters, like Mykelti Williamson as Gabriel (Troy’s brother), and especially Jovan Adepo in his first major role. Also to note, remember Saniyya Sidney’s name. I have a feeling she’s going places, that kid.

Washington and Davis and the rest of the cast assembled for a Q&A after the film ended and Davis spoke about Washington being such a good teacher for other actors. She talked about one scene when she was trying to “film act” and “go small.” He told her not to do that — but instead to find the truth in the scene. Washington then addressed the crowd and said the camera will always spot the lie. And there is no such thing as “film acting.”

Fences will very likely earn two Oscars — or certainly come very close — for Washington and Davis. The former has already won two, and the latter is overdue. You don’t see acting like this every day. It’s also great that Davis is going into the supporting category so that her performance can shine without having to compete with equally strong Best Actress performances. Davis would have been nominated without question in lead, but the shared weight of her role in Fences means winning is likely easier in supporting.

It is too soon to predict these things as a certainty, but sometimes in the Oscar race you see a performance that is unequivocal – like Daniel Day Lewis in Lincoln, or Helen Mirren in The Queen, or Forest Whitaker in Last King of Scotland, and you know probably nothing will come along later to top tit. It’s slightly less of a done deal than it would be if Washington had never won but this performance as Troy is so much more, so much bigger, than his “drug dealer” in Training Day that winning a second lead acting Oscar for him, for this role, is well earned.

Davis as Rose also knocks it out of the park in the trusting hands of director Washington. Both of them have performed the same roles on stage, which has obviously given them a familiarity with the characters that is immediately apparent.

There are times when I see a movie and I wish Roger Ebert were alive to see it. Fences is one of those. He would have loved it.

Review coming when embargo lifts. I would suspect it’s a strong contender across the board: Picture, Director, Actor, Supporting Actor and Actress, maybe screenplay, etc.