Antwone Fisher (Derek Luke) is a young sailor with a violent streak. Following his latest attack on another enlisted man he is busted and sent to Navy psychiatrist, Dr. Jerome Davenport (Denzel Washington), for help. Antwone refuses to open up at first but, with the kind attention of the doctor, the young man eventually breaks down and reveals a horrific childhood. Davenport helps him confront his painful past and Fisher begins a quest to find the family he never knew in "Antwone Fisher."
Laura's Review: C+
A young boy stands in a wheat field, then enters a barn where a group of colorfully attired black women lay out a spread that concludes with a plate of pancakes. Petty officer Fisher (Derek Luke) awakens from this dream and later that day lands in the trouble that will send him to the naval psychiatrist who will uncover its meaning in Denzel Washington's directorial debut, "Antwone Fisher."
"Antwone Fisher" is a by-the-numbers patient/doctor pic that covers all the usual ground - resistant subject, physician who must be healed by patient, beautiful and sensitive love interest willing to put up with all kinds of odd behavior. Washington's film looks slick, courtesy of Philippe Rousselot's crisp cinematography, but this story of triumph over abuse holds more interest in its production history (Fisher worked on the studio lot as a guard) than in its telling.
After interviewing 'I got nothing to say' Fisher, Jerome Davenport (Denzel Washington) heads home to wife Berta (Salli Richardson, resembling a young, softer Pam Greer). We're clued into a troubled marriage by the huge floral centerpiece on the Davenports' dinner table which forms a barrier between them. Meanwhile stunner Cheryl (Joy Bryant, "Showtime") is slowly succeeding in bringing Antwone out of his shell. As Davenport gains Antwone's trust dispensing courting advice, Fisher begins to slowly tell tales of the horrible abuse that befell him at the hands of Mrs. Tate (Novella Nelson, "Judy Berlin") and the slatternly Nadine (Yolonda Ross) when he was given up by his birth mother. Davenport convinces the young sailor to seek out mother Eva (Viola Davis, "Far From Heaven") for closure while Antwone's presence in the Davenport home helps heal their undisclosed marital woes.
Fisher, who wrote the autobiographical screenplay, surely had a harrowing experience growing up, but his experience fails to make a unique film. The screenplay also introduces situations and characters with no explanation as to their meaning. Washington directs the whole affair with a hushed reverence that makes for a well crafted but stodgy film. The performances of his ensemble cast are all on the mark.
At this time last year, a similar entry, "Finding Forrester," got lost in the shuffle, but that film had more life to it. "Antwone Fisher" is well meaning, but pedestrian.
Robin's Review: C+
Denzel Washington makes his directorial debut with the autobiographical story of a deeply troubled young man, Antwone, whose father died a violent death and his mother, a junkie, abandoned him as a small child. Forced to live in a abusive foster home during his formative years. He joined the Navy when old enough but his propensity for trouble, and a fight with as fellow sailor, lands him before his captain (James Brolin), who throws the book at him. He is busted to seaman and ordered to attend anger management training under the guidance of Dr. Davenport. Fisher is immediately uncooperative but the doctor has lots of experience with the likes of Antwone and a waiting game ensues.
Antwone must return week after week to Davenport office until he decides to cooperate with the shrink. Slowly, with the patient attention of the doctor, Antwone begins to open up and tell the story of his hard life. The psychiatrist also helps Fisher with a budding romance with Cheryl Smolley (Joy Bryant), also in the Navy, and to face his past and go find your family. Antwone begins to straighten out his troubled life, with Davenport and Cheryl attentive help, and he finally decides to make the journey back to his past in order to give himself a positive future.
There is nothing new and different about this mildly interesting tale of inspiration as Antwone fights all comers aboard his ship and he keeps getting into hot water. His latest infraction lands him on the couch of base shrink Davenport and, after an initial rough start, a father/son-like bond is formed between the two men. When Antwone meets Cheryl the doc helps him get past his initial shyness and a romance is born. Once Fisher adult problems are brought under control he bares his soul about his troubled youth we know that he will confront all the ghosts of his past and a catharsis will ensue.
There are few surprises in Fisher own adaptation of his dramatic personal biography, Finding Fish. It doesn come as a shock that Washington would select this work about a troubled young black man as his first foray behind the camera. A young man who has lived a tough, unforgiving life father dead, abandoned by his mother, living in a physically and sexually abusive foster home who then pulls himself up by the bootstraps (with the help of a benevolent black psychiatrist) is meat for Washington. The first-time helmer gives a yeoman effort on both sides of the camera, but it is not a remarkable debut.
In addition to Antwone story of redemption there is also the sidebar about Davenport own troubled life and marriage. The physician, heal thyself sub plot has Dr. Jerome facing his problems and resolving conflicts with his wife (Salli Richardson) that his job and Navy career have imposed on the couple. The newly redeemed Antwone has a cathartic effect on Davenport to show that the street runs both ways when it comes to personal problems.
Antwone Fisher holds much akin to Gus Van Sant Finding Forrester and Good Will Hunting. All three films deal with a mentor/student relationship that slowly reverses the relationships until the mentor learns to learn from his ward. Unfortunately, Derek Luke does not have the same degree that Rob Brown imbued in the young student in Forrester. Luke acquits himself well enough opposite Oscar-winning Washington but it is not the dynamo perf like Brown was. Washington is serviceable as the good doctor, and eventual friend, but it makes me wonder what another actor would have done with the role.
The supporting cast is two-dimensional, at best, and does little to flesh out the background of Antwone Fisher. The exception is a sweet, believable performance by Joy Bryant as Cheryl, a model-turned-actor who has screen presence and forms a nice chemistry with Luke. Otherwise, support is pretty flat.
Techs are solid but not exceptional.
Antwone Fisher is an earnest, by-the-numbers effort by Washington. It won rock any boats but is solid meat-and-potatoes filmmaking.