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ANTWONE FISHER

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Derek Luke, Joy Bryant, Denzel Washington
Director: Denzel Washington
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Digital 5.1, Spanish Dolby Surround
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Features: See Review
Length: 120 Minutes
Release Date: May 20, 2003

“I understand you like to fight.”

“It’s the only way some people learn.”

“But you pay the price for teaching them.”

Film ***1/2

Denzel Washington’s directorial debut, Antwone Fisher, proves once again that some of the best movies come as a result of true experiences. The real Antwone Fisher wrote the screenplay of his life story, hoping to have it told through the screen. Fisher was working as a security guard at Sony when the screenplay caught the attention of both the producers and Washington, who was no doubt touched by the very personal story. The story is that of a journey of a good but emotionally troubled young man in the Navy, traumatized by life events ever since his birth. Antwone Fisher, similar to that of Good Will Hunting, ranks in the same league and is a wonderfully moving film sure to stir your emotions.

Newcomer Derek Luke gives an outstanding breakthrough performance as Fisher, who at the beginning of the film has a vivid dream where he, as a young boy, is reunited with every single one of his ancestors, only to have the dream broken by the sudden blast of a shotgun. Tormented by these dreams, and his past, Fisher retaliates by getting into numerous fights with fellow sailors. Following his latest scuffle, he is ordered to visit naval psychiatrist Dr. Davenport (Washington). Feeling as if he doesn’t have to say anything, Fisher’s first several sessions with Davenport are nothing but dead silence, until the doctor eventually gets Fisher to open up.

As the young man opens up about his past, we discover that he really didn’t have it that easy. He was born in prison, not ever knowing why his mother was locked up in the first place. His father was shot dead two months before he was born by a jealous ex-girlfriend. After being abandoned by his mother, he was sent to a foster home, only to be tortured physically and mentally by a cruel foster mother. Another traumatizing factor came later in his life when his lifelong friend was shot dead in front of his eyes while committing an act of robbery. Fisher always felt like that was another act of abandonment.

What is he to do to put the past behind him for good? Davenport suggests he should face the past by going back to Cleveland to locate his mother, confront her, and possibly forgive, so that he can get on with his life. With a new girlfriend, Cheryl (Joy Bryant) eagerly by his side, Antwone proceeds to do just that. He does eventually confront his long lost mother, in an emotionally shattering scene. There is also a sharp surprise of joy that I will leave you to discover by the film’s end.

When a high profile actor takes a shot at directing, you never know quite what to predict, but Denzel Washington proves himself as a man for the task. He doesn’t execute any unique directing techniques, and he doesn’t have to, because this story doesn’t demand it. Washington shoots the movie traditionally, with uncomplicated shots that serve this story extremely well. He does a very fine job in staging the frequent flashback and dream sequences, which both induce quite an impact.

Antwone Fisher is an extraordinary piece, indeed. It’s a film bound to touch anyone who watches it.

Video ****

As always, Fox ignites a top form job with the handling of this video transfer. Shown in a gloriously sharp widescreen format and enhancing the terrific cinematography by Philippe Rousselout, the picture quality never lets up from the opening frame, and is clear and beautifully rendered from that point on. Colors are at the right tone, and there is no sign of image bleeding, distortion or compression. As in the Fox way, it’s nicely done as always.

Audio ***

A much nicely tuned 5.1 mix is at hand here, and given that the film relies heavily on dialogue more than anything else, that’s really saying something. Dialogue is as clear and clean as can be, and occasional background music use is well heard. Various set pieces, such as the interior of a naval ship and a sequence set in a nightclub payoff, in addition.

Features ***1/2

A nice listing of extras, including a commentary track with Denzel Washington and producer Todd Black, three featurettes, “Meeting Antwone Fisher”, “Hollywood and the Navy”, and “The making of Antwone Fisher”, and trailers for Drumline, Master and Commander, In America, and Le Divorce.

Summary:

Antwone Fisher is an extraordinary journey of a character, and an emotionally beautiful experience of a film, making Denzel Washington’s directorial debut is a solid one, indeed.