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In 'Fences,' Viola Davis Out-Denzels The Denzelist Denzel that Ever Denzel'd

By Dustin Rowles | Film | December 28, 2016 |

By Dustin Rowles | Film | December 28, 2016 |

I’ve said it before, but it warrants repeating here: Denzel Washington makes two kinds of movies: Movies where Denzel gets to be a bad ass, and movies with a “message” where Denzel gets to be a bad ass. He only makes the latter every once in a while these days to remind everyone that Denzel is still the best goddamn actor of his generation, because not everyone is aware of that. Those people are called, “People who have never seen a Denzel Washington movie.”

Fences is one of those “message” movies, and the message is this: Sit in your goddamn seat and watch Denzel act, son. Denzel ain’t got nothing to prove, but every once in a while, Denzel likes to remind you that he has nothing to prove. Fences will erase any doubts you may have had. Now, some of you might be saying, “But Dustin?! Greatest actor of his generation? Really? What about Daniel Day Lewis?” And to those people, I say, put your dunce cap on and go sit in a corner. Daniel Day Lewis has to spend months getting into the right mindset before he can play Lincoln or Gerry Conlon or Daniel Plainview. You know how long Denzel needs to get into a role? Shut the fuck up, that’s how long. Denzel wakes up every morning ready. As Sir Lawrence Olivier once said, “Dear boy, it’s called being Denzel.”

Now, here’s the other thing about Denzel. He doesn’t do “franchises.” He doesn’t do Marvel movies. Or Star Wars movies. You know why? Because Denzel is his own franchise. It’s got a lifetime gross of $2.3 billion, and he’s done that without ever making a movie with a budget over $100 million. Denzel movies don’t need $100 million budgets, because Denzel provides his own special effects. They look like this:


Michael Bay ain’t got nothing on him.

Now, when Denzel gets it in his mind to make a “Oscar” movie, do you think he runs out and hires Marty Scorsese or some other arrogant white motherfucker who needs 50 shots to get the right scene? Fuck off. He keeps it in house. He hires himself. Is Denzel the greatest director on the planet? Who the fuck cares? When you got Denzel in your movie, an asshole with an iPhone can produce an Oscar nomination, and he doesn’t need 50 takes. As long as he keeps Denzel in the frame, he only needs one.

Now, aside from “franchise” movies or sequels, you know what else Denzel doesn’t do? Relationship movies. Go ahead. Think about it for a minute. How many “love interests” do you remember Denzel having? How many runs through the airport have you seen him engage in? Zero, that’s how many. Why? Because fuck you, that’s why. And also because love stories require co-leads, someone who Denzel can pair up with, and no one can stand toe to toe with him onscreen without being completely subsumed by his presence. How many white boys — Ryan Reynolds, Mark Wahlberg, Chris Pine — has Denzel chewed up and spit out over the course of his career? Huh? All of them, that’s how many. The thing about Denzel movies is that they’re all Denzel movies. Even The Magnificent Seven, which had some big-ass stars in it, was a Denzel movie, because when Denzel is onscreen, ain’t nothing else matter, boo.

But here’s the thing about Fences. It’s a relationship drama, because Denzel finally found someone who could play on his level, and Viola Davis doesn’t just hold her own, she Denzels all over the fucking place. I’ve never seen anything like it before. When Viola Davis builds up a head of steam, she not only out-Denzels Denzel, she erases him, she buries him in a pile of spit, snot and tears. She’s towering. She’s like a grizzly bear in a cage match with a raccoon.

Viola Davis is a goddamn beast in Fences, and to call it an acting clinic would do a disservice to both Davis and to clinics. One goes to a clinic to learn. What Viola does can’t be learned. It can only be experienced, and when she’s onscreen, put down your damn popcorn, son. Don’t let that crunching sound inside your head distract you from the motherfucking majesty, because Viola Davis is a goddamn queen.

Viola and Denzel combined are a miracle. They are two forces, a hurricane of talent the likes we have never seen, and may never see again. It is unreal.

Is Fences a good movie? Shut the fuck up. Does Denzel flash that grin? Yes, yes he does. Does Viola display perfectly measured dose of righteous fury? You’re goddamn right she does. Well, then, it’s a stupid fucking question, isn’t it?

There’s a lot of options at the movie theater right now. Sci fi, comedy, prestige pics, and Bad Santa 2, but only one of those films stars Denzel Washington and Viola Davis. If you have any goddamn sense in that head of yours, Fences is the movie you pony up to see, chief. And when you walk out of the theater, and you look up into the sky, the lights are gonna feel a bit dimmer, because for two hours, you got to sit in the presence of the two brightest stars in the goddamn solar system.

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Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here, follow him on Twitter, or listen to his weekly TV podcast, Podjiba.