There’s only one fence in director and star Denzel Washington’s presentation of August Wilson’s play about an outsized personality and the world he finds himself squeezed into: the pine-plank job that trash man, father, and former Negro Leagues baseball star Troy Maxson builds around his backyard over the course of the film. But the plural is no accident: it points to that single fence’s many uses and significances: to keep loved ones in, to keep enemies out, to mark a man’s personal achievements and limitations — the reach of his power and the limits imposed upon him. It’s a lot for a plain wood fence to bear; happily, the real work here is done by the film’s fine cast (including Viola Davis as Maxson’s long-suffering wife) — and even more, by Wilson’s words, which do more to define the territory than any fence ever could. Your best bet is to let those mellifluous, multitudinous words bewitch, bother, and beguile you; then maybe you won’t notice the stagey presentation, slight story, and occasional emotional overreach. (2016) — Matthew Lickona
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