Denzel Washington plays Roy, a blistering and uncompromising performance by a treasured American actor. Washington won the Tony for playing the role on stage and now serves as the film's director. He is nothing short of masterful, both as director and actor. Washington's portrayal of Roy is that of a complicated man who carries the shadow of slavery, of limitations, or oppression with him as he tries to raise a family and live the American dream. The film's portrayal echoes the poem Harlem by Langston Hughes:
What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?
As a man whose dreams were thwarted as a young man, he grapples with stepping and allowing his son to ascend in a world made for white and women. Roy reaches for happiness but it also eludes him - as it doesn't seem to occur to him that there is much joy to be found in what's right in front of him. To Roy, a life built on dreams that never could have been, his pent up anger is taken out on those around him, those who love him so much.
August Wilson's Fences is really about how the past strangles the future when it comes to race in America. It's such a beautifully written piece, deep and layered - with each character thoroughly thought through. Washington has played the part of Roy and it's gotten in his DNA, it's fair to say. It is the best performance of the year, male or female.
Washington won Best Actor for Training Day, and Best Supporting Actor for Glory. He's been nominated six times. If he is nominated for Fences, it will be his seven - easily a record for an African American actor.