This is the true story of Antwone Fisher (Derek Luke), an angry young sailor, ready to explode at any provocation. When he is sent to the naval shrink, Jerome Davenport (Denzel Washington) for assessment, he locks himself in a metaphoric brig. But Davenport’s patience and big hearted response to Antwone slowly drags out of him the tragic story of his life as an abused orphan. That, and the young woman (Joy Bryant) who falls in love with him, turn his life around, but with great pain and great difficulty, sending him on a journey to find his real roots.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Antwone Fisher is a film movie-hardened critics would resist with suspicion if it weren’t a true story. It has all the elements that American studio pictures aspire to in terms of ‘elements’, from being a journey that takes our central character from a nothing to a self respecting somebody who defeats their demons. A hero who rises from hell to glory. A victim who takes control of his life. The fact that it’s a true story and written by the very person whose life it tells make the film impossible to dismiss as soppy, schmaltzy or manipulative. And it doesn’t matter whether some of the details may be smudged for understandable reasons of ego or the sake of a cinematic telling. The essence of the story is one of overcoming the nasty hand that fate has dealt Antwone, and doing so with courage and decency. Hard to argue with that. The film’s achievements are threefold: the essential details of Antwone’s journey are managed within a reasonable 2-hour time frame, creating a compact enough story with which we can engage. This is a fine combination of script and inspired direction. Secondly, Denzel Washington’s casting is perfect. Not 99% but perfect. There’s not a character, whether lead or support, that doesn’t ring true, not a face that isn’t achingly real, not an interaction that doesn’t haunt with its often painful honesty. One of the most emotionally charged scenes, for example, requires accurate writing, absolute emotional sincerity and deeply nuanced delivery from two actors whose characters are at a momentous confrontation with each other. This extended scene has the power to derail the whole film and it doesn’t; on the contrary, it provides the propellant for our emotional and psychological contract with the entire story and all the characters. Thirdly, the film’s craftsmanship (production design, music, cinematography and editing) are cohesive and seamlessly inspired. Derek Luke and his pretty girlfriend Joy Bryant are both riveting, Denzel Washington delivers a genuine and complex Jerome, and you’d have to be popping downers not to register significant heart activity through Antwone’s story.
Review by Louise Keller:
In a stunning directorial debut, Denzel Washington delivers a powerful and poignant story about a sailor forced to deal with his anger from issues stemming from his abused childhood. Engrossing and moving, Antwone Fisher inspires in every way, and Washington’s subtle and beautifully paced direction is not the only first time achievement. It also heralds the screenwriting debut of Fisher himself, who pens his own story in an accessible and heart rending way. With much soul searching, Fisher has honed his craft and delves through the many layers to tell his story of abandonment, rejection, abuse and isolation simply and effectively. Derek Luke, in his feature film debut, gradually opens up his heart, allowing every emotional moment to trigger a maximum response. He matches Washington scene by scene, and as Antwone slowly reveals his secrets to Washington’s patient but detached psychiatrist, we become more and more involved. In flashbacks, we relive parts of Antwone’s childhood with him, as he allows himself to remember what he has so guardedly hidden away from everyone, even himself. Antwone and Jerome’s relationship begins guardedly; Antwone has never had the chance to examine his feelings before, and Jerome becomes a father-figure, giving him the confidence he lacks, and propelling him on a life-affirming course of action. The parallel story involving Jerome and his wife is never fully disclosed, but the hints and clues are all on display, making the relationship between these two men more potent. There are so many sweet moments – like the scene when Antwone is rehearsing what he will say on his first date with Cheryl (Joy Bryant’s debut is outstanding). ‘I’m man enough to plan, Cheryl,’ says Jerome. Antwone is so gauche and unsure, but with Jerome’s reassurance, we too become part of his support system and are behind him every second. Taking the first step is the hardest and as Antwone unlocks the key to his secrets, we watch him convert the bad hand he was dealt into a hand full of aces. ‘It was always raining’ Antwone remembers of his painful childhood, and it’s apt that when he finally goes home to meet his family that the rain is drizzling down, like tears being shed. The result of his search is not what he expects, and the scene when he meets his mother is so emotional that it is impossible not to be moved. I can still feel the tears welling up in my eyes, just remembering the moment. Emotionally satisfying, Antwone Fisher is a beautifully told story about a remarkable young man whose courage and determination to overcome the obstacles created by his past, is a shining inspiration to us all.
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Andrew L. Urban talks to
ANTWONE FISHER and
ANTWONE FISHER (M)
CAST: Denzel Washington, Derek Luke, Joy Bryant, Salli Richardson, Novella Nelson
PRODUCER: Todd Black, Randa Haines, Denzel Washington
DIRECTOR: Denzel Washington
SCRIPT: Antwone Fisher
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Philippe Rousselot AFC/ASC
EDITOR: Conrad Buff ACE
MUSIC: Mychael Danna
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Nelson Coates
RUNNING TIME: 120 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Fox Searchlight
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: March 13, 2003
VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Fox Entertainment
VIDEO RELEASE: (Rental) August 13, 2003