Films adapted from stage plays present both risk and opportunity. The focus on people in a fairly confined space provides great opportunities for actors to work with meaty dialogue. On the other hand, the long scenes and confinement can restrict cinematic style and make the film rather staid. In the case of Fences, director and star Denzel Washington mostly strikes a balance, making full use of the long scenes of conversations about being a black family in 1950s Pittsburgh. Washington plays Troy Maxson, an embittered patriarch who has suffered and inflicts suffering in equal measure. His wife Rose (Viola Davis) understands him all too well yet remains steadfast beside him, while his sons from this and a previous marriage, Cody (Jovan Adepo) and Lyons (Russell Hornsby) frequently clash with Troy’s bullish manner of parenting. Troy’s closest friend Bono (Stephen McKinley Henderson) and his brain-damaged brother Gabriel (Mykelti Williamson) fill out the rest of the characters, and the performances are universally superb. Washington excels as a man whose tough and bitter stance is understandable, and the viewer is likely to feel ambivalent towards him as Troy’s nastier qualities emerge. Davis is captivating as the loyal wife who is set upon to a sometimes appalling degree, and both these performers may well be stroking golden baldies come Oscar night. Cinematically, the first half of Fences is somewhat staid, confined largely to the backyard of the Maxsons’ house, but in the second half Washington displays directorial flair, with evocative changes in lighting, depth of field and editing. In his third outing as director, Washington was succeeded in translating this stage play to the screen, but his greatest talent and indeed the film’s greatest strengths lie in front of the camera.