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Antwone Fisher By Matt Singer
The first adjective that comes to mind when recalling Antwone Fisher is “solid” - sitting here a few hours later, it is tough to find any significant flaws in Denzel Washington’s impressive directorial debut. This movies does not reinvent the wheel, and does not provide the rush of some of the more adventurous holiday movies of 2002, but its plot never wanders and it hits some very emotional moments. It’s a small picture in scope, but not in the power of its message.
Fisher’s story is, to some extent, true, and this film’s screenplay was written by the real-life Fisher himself. Before we meet him as a indignant Navy seaman, he’s been abandoned and abused enough for three lifetimes. After beating the crap out of another sailor who really should have kept his mouth shut, he is ordered to attend therapy sessions with a Navy psychiatrist played by Jerome Davenport (Washington). The film charts Fisher’s progress as he deals with his childhood and finds more suitable ways to channel his emotions.
Derek Luke, an actor whose only previous Hollywood experience is a couple of guest shots on Moesha and The King of Queens, plays the role of Antwone with the depth and talent of a seasoned pro. Antwone the character flies through a barrage of emotions, and Luke does a remarkable job of communicating each in his eyes and a radiant smile. He spends most of the film trading dialogue with Washington, in a small set with subdued music; it would not have been difficult to look outmatched. But it simply doesn’t happen. Hopefully, he has a bright future in the movies ahead of him (Though his next film, Biker Boyz, also starring Kid Rock, might not prove as fruitful a showcase for his abilities as Fisher).
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Antwone Fisher does not offer much in the way of plot surprises, and if it wasn’t so entertaining, it would be easy to call it emotionally manipulative. Nothing makes for easier tear-jerkers than true stories, and Fisher’s is a whopper. But Washington’s direction, confident but not flashy, confidentially guides the great cast. Apparently, Denzel was playing close attention while acting under guys like Spike Lee, Alan J. Pakula, and Jonathan Demme. Washington’s future in the field probably depends on Fisher’s box office total, but it seems a good bet that audiences who catch this film will want to see him direct again.
The film is already garnering a reputation as a bit of a tissue demolisher, and it’s with good reason. In the penultimate scene, Fisher and the audience view something that caused quite a few sniffles in my theater, and even some mistyness in the eyes of this reviewer. Coming at the end of the film’s journey, and directly following another very important scene, it provides the big release for all the frustration and outrage that’s been building for two hours. I am not sure if this is a fabricated moment or one that actually happened to Fisher, but that bears little on the huge impact it will have on you and your memory.
The only flaws of note in Fisher comes in the scenes of Davenport’s private life, which should add richness to the film and another element to his exchanges with Fisher, but more often just prove distracting to the larger story. Washington’s final speech also rings false in a few ways, and it almost seems like his character is stealing a bit of the spotlight from the main character. But even this cannot dim the effectiveness of the previous scene, and I would recommend the film with few qualifications. We can forgive a few flaws for Denzel Washington - he’s a newcomer at this, after all.