Denzel Washington’s performance of a monologue from Fences, shown in the just-released trailer (dubbed a teaser — though it’s 1:50 minutes long) for the upcoming film, may (in the trailer alone) seem to bulldoze most other performances you’ve seen this year — until Viola Davis cuts in with equal, towering ferocity.
The film, which Washington directed, is based on the Tony/Pulitzer prize winning 1983 August Wilson play of the same name, and looks like it manages to translate the play’s reliance on the mounting tension in performances of long scenes mostly set in or around a family’s home quite well to the screen. (A feat, given the flattening effect bringing theater onto the screen can have.) And one of the things that’s so cool about this trailer is the way it actually embraces the project’s theatrical origins and the integrity of Wilson’s writing (the script that Washington used was written by Wilson before his death), letting Washington deliver an entire monologue as its through-line.
The trailer for the ’50s-set film shows Washington as Troy, a former baseball player who, due to his race, was never able to make a living off his athletic skill, and who, at 53, is supporting his family by working as a garbage collector. The film/play on which it’s based sees him clashing with his son, Cory (Jovan Adepo), who aims to get a football scholarship, which Troy vehemently (as seen in the trailer) fights, for fear that he’ll bet met with the same goal-quashing racial discrimination. Troy weaves often elaborate and false stories about his life, meanwhile confronting the actual realities of an extramarital affair’s impact on his marriage to Rose, played by Viola Davis, and trying to navigate the world as both a man in America the ’50s — expected to provide for his family — and as a black man in America the ’50s — given such meager opportunities to actually do so.
Both Washington and Davis played these roles onstage together (and both won Tonys for it), in a 2010 revival of the play. Of that performance, Ben Brantley had said in the New York Times that Washington shifted his character (formerly played by James Earl Jones) from “the salty, genial everyman he’s thus far appeared to be into a much more arresting figure,” that Davis drew “extraordinary power from…reticence,” and that he could sense from their performances “so palpably that it hurts, why Troy and Rose were meant to be together.” He’d added that “when it looked as if the marriage might be going south…you could hear horrified gasps in the audience.”
This is the first of 10 August Wilson adaptation projects Washington has been planning, and will be released on December 25. Watch the trailer: