YouTube video going around for awhile that compared the original Troy, James Earl Jones, with Washington scene for scene, and Jones's work is tighter, stronger, and more about the character than the actor; Washington played the part onstage like everyone was there to see him.
[Side note: I almost went to an early screening of this in Florida in early December, but I had stood in line for 90 minutes and then knew I was going to get stuck in the front row of the theatre, so I left without watching the movie. I figured my annoyance with the situation would disallow my enjoyment of the movie, and with the two strikes already against Fences in my head, I figured I shouldn't prejudice myself against this movie.]
What is so genius about Wilson's work here – and this is on display perfectly in Washington's film – is that even though the play itself (and this is why he chooses realism as his form) is really about how racist circumstances and situations have shaped these men and women, his characters are beautiful, fully draw human beings who attempt to live out their dreams. What I mean to say is that Wilson is primarily interested in a kind of materialist analysis of the effects of racism on the lives of black people in the North, but his characterization is so superb that he also manages beautiful historical portraits of black folkways in the great tradition of Georgia Douglas Johnson and Sterling Brown.
The acting is top notch all around. Washington is superb. Davis is excellent. Russell Hornsby is fantastic. Stephen McKinley Henderson is great. It's a very, very good cast. Expect Oscar nominations for Washington and Davis for sure. (Davis is committing category fraud by running as supporting in what is unquestionably a lead performance.) But this will also be nominated for Best Picture, and, if they're not out of their minds, Best Director, as well.