Director: Denzel Washington
Cast: Derek Luke, Joy Bryant, Denzel Washington, Salli Richardson, Novella Nelson, Viola Davis
MPAA Rating: (for violence, language and mature thematic material involving child abuse)
Running Time: 1:53
Release Date: 12/19/02 (limited); 1/10/03 (wide)
Review by Mark Dujsik
Fisher crosses the line between genuinely touching and cloyingly
manipulative many times over. Ultimately,
the former wins out, but the inherent trappings of the latter keep the film from
ever really taking off. Antwone
Fisher is Denzel Washington’s directorial debut, and with its strong focus
on character, we can tell an actor directed it. I can envision Washington moving on to direct solid and well-developed character dramas, and this story
is a good place to start. With its
feel-good, inspirational ambitions that will undoubtedly make it a popular
movie, this should allow
Fisher (Derek Luke), a sailor
in the Navy, dreams of a giant family welcoming him to a huge feast. The dream comes to a stop with the sound of a
gunshot. He awakens to his life aboard a ship in port where he’s having problems
controlling his temper, oftentimes leading to violent outbursts against fellow
officers. His commanding officer is
fed up with his behavior, fining him and forcing him to see a naval psychiatrist
named Jerome Davenport (
Fisher’s story recalls a few other more potent films (Good Will Hunting anyone?), and so it suffers from familiarity. The relationship between Fisher and Davenport is the key, and there’s an odd feeling that Fisher already knows what he needs to do and say to confront his problems. This is either the result of years of pop psychology in which everyone has the ability to psychoanalyze themselves or Fisher the screenwriter is giving Fisher the character a self-awareness that his older, wiser self currently possesses. It works in summing up what’s at the heart of Fisher’s problems and cutting to the chase. In this part of the movie, we also get the budding romance between Fisher and Cheryl, which is sweet. It also doesn’t resort to adding conflict for conflict’s sake. On the other hand, with Fisher’s intense fear of rejection and abandonment, we would expect there to be a few bumps in the road for the young couple. After all, Fisher breaks down when he learns the sessions with Davenport are over, but he has no fear of such a fate for him and Cheryl. There’s also tension between Davenport and his wife Berta (Salli Richardson), which at first we suspect is present to serve as a contrast to the blossoming romance, but it turns out completely different in the end, when Davenport gives an obligatory speech about Fisher’s impact on him.
Once we get past the analysis part of the film, the last act moves into more interesting territory. In this section, Fisher stands up to the people who beat him down and confronts the personal demons that have haunted him. It’s a truly moving series of events that leads to an overblown but deserved denouement. The climax finally puts mother and son in the same room. Note the way that Washington keeps the camera on Antwone’s mother after he leaves. In this one act, we see his potential strength as a director. He allows this character a chance to justify herself without words, and it adds an unexpected layer of regret and sympathy, thanks to Viola Davis’ short but incredibly effective performance. Newcomer Derek Luke also gives a strong performance. He hits home Fisher’s strength of character as well as the underpinning sadness and loneliness. He and Joy Bryant share fine chemistry for the romance, and Denzel Washington is as effective as ever.
When it boils down to it, Antwone Fisher is an uplifting story about overcoming personal demons, which, when done right as it is here, is always something from which to learn. Washington shows himself a director from whom to expect better things. There is something troubling me, though. Is Antwone Fisher’s story inspirational? Yes. Does he need to repeatedly tell us just how inspirational it is? No, but he does anyway. That’s what keeps the film from standing tall.
Copyright © 2002 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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