U.S. Release Date:
December 19, 2002
Distributor: Fox Searchlight
Director: Denzel Washington
Producer: Todd Black
Composer: Mychael Danna
Cast: Denzel Washington, Derek Luke, Viola Davis
Running Time: 2 hours
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (violence, language and mature thematic material involving abuse)
It's understandable why Antwone Fisher was an angry young man, prone to fight with his Navy shipmates. Born in a woman's correctional facility, abandoned by his convict mother and his father murdered two months before his birth, Fisher was raised in the abusive home of a storefront preacher and his wife where he was beaten and sexually abused on a regular basis. Abandoned by friends, family and caregivers, Fisher turned to the Navy for a sense of both himself and family—a goal put in jeopardy by his frequent outbursts of violence.
What could have been a typical television movie of the week with schmaltzy music and overacting has been crafted by first-time director Denzel Washington into a powerful, understated and beautifully acted portrait of a young man coming to terms with his past and discovering how much strength he has in himself. It is the story of the ultimate self-made man.
Washington does double duty playing Navy psychiatrist Lt. Commander Davenport, who must determine whether or not Fisher should be allowed to stay in the Navy. After a rocky start, these sessions reveal Fisher's tragic, violent past, and make Davenport realize that Fisher is a decent, intelligent, sensitive young man who has impressively overcome his past much more unscathed than he might think.
Fisher's dream is to find the family that he never knew, and we see what that dream looks in the movie's opening moments. When that reunion does occur, it is bittersweet as Fisher expected it, but far more painful.
And though Derek Luke as Fisher is impressive, the real star turn is Washington-as-director. This is a solidly and assuredly directed picture. Every scene rings true, and every performance has a nuance to it that is rarely seen in today's big budget fare.
Inspired by and written by the real Antwone Fisher, the movie has an excellent screenplay. The scenes between Fisher and his girlfriend Cheryl (Joy Bryant) are romantic. Both actors have real chemistry, and the relationship is not cutesy or overly sexualized. These are two young people who like, respect and care for one another—another rarity in the world of two-dimensional Hollywood.
However, there is one minor problem, and it is Washington's Davenport. The script gives the psychiatrist a subplot involving his marital troubles, which occurs mostly off-screen (the resolution is described but not shown in the final scene which undercuts the movie's circular structure). But that is a minor quibble in a picture that is enjoyable, painful and, yes, inspiring.