arrives amid much fanfare and with considerable Oscar buzz, and
it’s an accomplished work from master actor Denzel Washington, who
makes his stunning directorial debut. For good measure, he also
turns in one of the best performances of the year, playing a
supporting role in the film.
“Antwone Fisher” arrives amid much fanfare and with considerable Oscar buzz, and it’s an accomplished work from master actor Denzel Washington, who makes his stunning directorial debut. For good measure, he also turns in one of the best performances of the year, playing a supporting role in the film.
Newcomer Derek Luke is a major find, and he fits well into the role of the difficult character of Antwone Fisher, who has gone through a lot before beginning his stint in the Navy. His performance is not forced and has a natural feel to it, which helps with our connection with him. We want to see this young man beat his problems; we root for him because we see some of his vulnerablility in ourselves.
Antwone Fisher is a young sailor aboard a ship that is docked in a San Diego port. Fisher is a nice, quiet kid, but when he feels provoked, watch out! He is quick to react and gets into serious trouble when he gets into a brutal fist fight with a sergeant.
The ship authorities restrict him to his quarters and send him to see the ship’s psychologist, Jerome Davenport (Denzel Washington), who likes the boy but can’t get him to open up. If Fisher won’t discuss why he’s so angry, how can Davenport help him? Davenport adopts a more paternal attitude, hoping that his method will lead to some answers explaining Fisher’s disruptive behavior.
Through flashbacks we learn Fisher’s history, a version of his hellish childhood. His mother gave birth to him in prison, and his father was murdered by his girlfriend around the same time. So, Fisher is fatherless and hasn’t ever seen his biological mother, forced to grow up in the care of foster parents on the cold streets of Chicago.
His foster parents were brutal to him, with his foster mother, Mrs. Tate (Novella Nelson) tying him up, verbally abusing him and beating him with a wet towel. Things were no better with his foster sister, Nadine (Yolanda Ross), who sexually abuses him, preying on his shy, confused nature. With no real mother or father to speak of, Fisher joins the Navy, hoping to make something of himself. A nice boy for the most part, he wants to succeed but lacks the communication skills to get through ordinary, daily Navy rituals, which is where Davenport comes in.
In a wonderful film transormation, we see Antwone finally open up when he meets and befriends a young Navy girl, Cheryl (Joy Bryant), who sees something special in Antwone. A virgin, the sexually naive Fisher feels especially free around his new friend and tells her about his core values of family, love, honesty and sensitivity. It’s apparent that the anger needs to be removed for Antwone to truly become himself.
“Antwone Fisher” is a timeless story that tells the story of a young man without an identity; he feels no sense of who he is because of his parentless upbringing. With his exposure to Davenport and Cheryl, Antwone starts to get the love and support he needs to help those core values define him. It’s a brave, daring film that demands attention.
Denzel Washington is a national treasure, and his directorial debut is so good I hope it opens more doors for powerful Black people in the industry to be able to direct important films. We get few films that deal with real issues, and “Antwone Fisher” should be commended as a powerful, grand work.
ANTWONE FISHER. Directed by Denzel Washington. Written by Antwone Fisher. With Derek Luke, Denzel Washington, Joy Bryant, Salli Richardson, Earl Billings, Kevin Connolly and Viola Davis. Rated PG-13 (violence, language, mature themes), 120 minutes. Now playing at Bay Area theaters.