Antwone Fisher Movie Review

Quiet, small-scale, and self-contained dramas such as Antwone Fisher can be powered in one direction or another by the smallest detail. For title character (and real person) Fisher (Derek Luke), a sailor serving in the U.S. Navy, it's an ill-advised fistfight with a fellow officer that sparks his emotional odyssey. The outburst is sudden, swift, and virtually unprovoked. The resulting path to redemption is alternately slow, painful, inspirational, and satisfying for Fisher as well as the audience.

Following his scuffle, the Navy hustles Fisher into therapy, where the man's true demons - and the film's true purpose - can be explored. Fisher is observed by superior officer Dr. Jerome Davenport (Washington), who is given three sessions to dig up the root of his new patient's moody swings. The normal teacher/student routines set in, largely characterized by Fisher's initial resistance and Davenport's tough love.

In Washington's subtle, gentle hands, Davenport evolves into a father figure for a man robbed of guidance. As a result, Fisher has the best in him brought out by someone who simply gave a damn, even if for a limited amount of time. Elements of Fisher's childhood claw and scratch their way to the surface with each session. We learn about his birth father, who died at the hands of a former girlfriend, and of his widowed mother, who gave birth to him while she was in prison. We hear about his foster family experiences, marked by molestation and abandonment. He comes from violence, abuse, and anger. It seems he knows little else.

Occasionally, trouble does find him. Fellow naval officer Rashon Grayson (Rainoldo Gooding) repeatedly goads Fisher into physical confrontations, and we question why Fisher would hang with this guy in the first place. Then there's familial trouble for Davenport, who comes home to an emotionally detached wife. Little of this is explored, possibly because Fisher himself penned the screenplay, so he reveals what he knows of the situation. It doesn't distract us from Fisher's own journey, but rather portrays how the fallible teacher can be as flawed as his pupil. Would you take advice on how to drive a car from someone who has never gripped a steering wheel?

Fisher marks Academy Award-winning actor Denzel Washington's directorial debut and delivers everything in direction we've come to expect from his acting. It is uniformly well-performed and blessed with a spotless screenplay that could easily pass a naval inspection. Writer Fisher displays a strong feel for conversational dialogue that's delivered with personality and charm by the sensible, down-to-earth cast. The film also benefits from Washington's clean, simple direction. Clearly the first-timer is rightfully concerned with characterization and plot development and never feels the need to show off his technical skills.

It's Derek Luke, though, who is the true find. He's a newcomer to the acting world, but count on bigger things filling his horizons shortly. His casual, textured performance resembles a giant onion made up of layers upon layers that the gifted actor peels back, eliciting tears the closer he gets to the core. He never buckles under the weight of the film's subject matter and outshines his co-star in scene after scene.

Antwone wants one.


Comments

Antwone Fisher Rating

" Excellent "

Rating: PG-13, 2002

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