Movie Review by Neil Ryan
Starring: Derek Luke, Joy Bryant, Denzel Washington, Salli Richardson, Earl Billings
Director: Denzel Washington
ANTWONE FISHER showcases a number of screen firsts: newcomers’ Derek Luke and Joy Bryant feature in their first lead roles, Denzel Washington makes his directorial debut, and Antwone Fisher makes his screenwriting bow with the eponymously titled script (based on his autobiographical memoir ‘Finding Fish’). The film tells the story of sullen young sailor Antwone Fisher (Luke), a pent-up ball of anger known for lashing out at his fellow shipmates given the slightest provocation. After getting involved in one confrontation too many he is sent to see naval psychiatrist Jerome Davenport (Washington). Fisher is initially withdrawn and reluctant to communicate but the patient and methodical Davenport slowly manages to encourage his wary charge to talk about his life before the navy. Fisher reveals a troubled childhood: he was abandoned by his mother and abused by the family who subsequently took him in. From his initially volatile and hermetical standpoint Fisher gradually develops an understanding with Davenport and begins to appreciate the psychological healing process he is undergoing. His therapy also encourages him to ask fellow sailor Cheryl (Bryant) on a date, and the two of them enjoy a burgeoning romance.
Fisher’s newfound ability to accept his traumatic childhood climaxes when he and Cheryl embark on a journey back to his childhood home in Cleveland to face his former tormentors and to trace the mother whom he has never met. Thanks to the encouragement of Davenport, and the support of Cheryl, Fisher’s emotional rehabilitation represents a remarkable turnaround for the one-time hot-tempered loner.
ANTWONE FISHER is a well-produced film and everyone involved emerges with credit. However, some may find it a little too perfunctory, a little too like an ‘issue of the week’ made-for-TV movie in the way that all of Fisher’s various problems are systematically resolved. In the course of Fisher’s therapy setbacks are frequently encountered but they are all overcome in a neat and tidy fashion with the aid of flashbacks and a kind word. The one scene that is genuinely charged with emotion is when Fisher finally meets his mother: his softly spoken dignity and refusal to upbraid her is in marked contrast to her silent guilty tears. However, this moving scene is immediately followed by an improbable slice of fantasy whereby Fisher finds himself the focal point of a large get-together of members of his long-lost family and a splendid feast is set before him. But despite this occasional dewy-eyed sentimentality ANTWONE FISHER is a solid enjoyable film, unusual in its subject matter and inspiring because of its real-life origins.