Antwone Fisher (2002)

Based on the true story of Antwone Fisher who rose to fame as an acclaimed writer from a life of hardship and directed by legendry Oscar-Winning actor Denzel Washington (Training Day, Glory), new comer Derek Luke takes the title role of Antwone Fisher, a young Navy seaman with a short temper who gets into many fights with different men in his regimen. He’s assigned a therapist Dr. Jerome Davenport, a militant but eager psychiatrist who attempts to break through to Fisher. He’s only given three sessions to see the soldiers and give an evaluation and recommendation regarding their fate with the military, but when Fisher refuses to talk, Davenport persists and week after week they meet until Fisher decides to start talking. Little does he know that not only is Fisher receiving the therapy, but Davenport as well who is having marital troubles with his wife whom are often estranged with each other emotionally. Davenport sees something in Fisher, something special, and he inevitably breaks him.

Watching Fisher as a hard shell with anger there is a preconcieved notion that he’s just a trouble-maker, but as the movie continues, we learn what’s underneath his anger to his turmoil infused and troubled childhood as an orphan. We watch as Fisher narrates the story of his childhood under the guidance of a minister who would beat his two step brothers, and a foster mother named Ms. Tate who calls him and his foster brothers “Niggers”, a despicable word. Fisher mentions that she never does call them by their real names, only calling them “Nigger” and we watch while she tortures them in various ways when they behave in a manner she doesn’t see fit. There’s an interesting scene in the film where Davenport gives Fisher a book called “The Slave Community”, and explains to him that Mrs. Tate acted upon disciplining him and his brothers because she had the mentality given by her days as a slave under ruler-ship, and that it’s passed down from parent to parent

Fisher refuses to think that Davenport may be making excuses for her behavior, but decides to read it, regardless. It’s a scene that best sums up the story, “Understanding”. We see something on the surface at the course of the movie but soon learn to see underneath the surface and explore something horrible. This is a gripping tale about Antwone Fisher who was a security guard at Sony studios in Hollywood when his screenplay came to the attention of Hollywood producers. Denzel Washington was so impressed by the project that he chose it for his first directorial outing. It’s not hard to understand why Washington, a legendry and well-respected actor of his time would choose such a film. And, it’s not hard to understand why he would choose newcomer Derek Luke as title character Antwone Fisher. Luke handles the film with skill, craft, and charm and takes the film as his own.

There are so much great scenes depicting his acting skill that there are too many to list but there is one that stood out in which Fisher gets into another fight and has an incredible monologue in the waiting office of Dr. Davenport. Washington’s film isn’t vain, it’s not self-centered, it’s down to earth. He never hogs the screen, is only in the film for a quarter of the story and gives an excellent performance which reflects upon his personality. There are scenes in the film that are so charming and so realistic, the dialogue so fresh and true. The scenes between Washington and Luke are excellent and truly engrossing, including one scene where Washington helps Luke in a role play session to relieve his tension on his first date. The story is tragic, it’s unbelievable and incredulous to believe that such events happened to such a little boy, but it’s life.

Meanwhile, during the sessions, Davenport experiences a change of life and in turn, is getting cured as well. Davenport encourages Fisher to look for his family which he never knew, and in the process we’re given some heartbreaking scenes including his meeting with his long lost mother, his family welcoming him with open arms and a feast, and his confrontation with his abusive foster relatives, a scene that truly ranks among one of the best monologues in film. As heartfelt a tale as it is tends to become mired in heavy melodrama with the often contrived cliché relationship between Fisher and Dr. Davenport. Unfortunately, a lot of it reminded me of “Lean on Me” and “An Officer and a Gentlemen” and it ruined all credibility and hope of this film becoming truly memorable as a biography.

A lot of the film focuses on the past tragedies of Fisher and what he experienced as a child with abuse and sexual molestation but most of it felt tacked on and at some points seemed to blatantly try to tug the audiences heartstrings for a tear, but none of it seemed genuine enough to cry over. Washington displays a knack for directing and visuals making the film seem like a labor of love, and in the end we see nothing but realism, heart, and triumph that lingers with us. This is a truly personal and heavy handed film with a great story, great character performed by a great cast including Washington and new comer Luke who carries the dramatic weight of the film with much success.