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Antwone Fisher

  • compiled by Jeffrey Overstreet Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2002 1 Jan
Antwone Fisher

from Film Forum, 12/19/02

Antwone Fisher, a former Navy sailor, penned his own memoirs and turned them into a screenplay. Now, actor and first–time director Denzel Washington has made Fisher's story into one of the year's most highly acclaimed films. It's a true story, but it's also the kind of story that can trip into a sentimentality–laced formula. It is to Washington's credit that he keeps it just real enough to move our hearts and our heads.

Talented newcomer Derek Luke plays Fisher through his years as a reckless, temperamental sailor. Easily provoked to violence, Fisher ends up meeting regularly with Dr. Jerome Davenport (Washington), a Navy psychologist.

Davenport's strength is his patience. He waits until Fisher can see and admit his weakness before drawing out of him a secret history of hurt. Davenport's interest is in Antwone's redemption from psychological and emotional damage, but this psychologist needs some saving himself. In reaching out to a hurting young man, he discovers things about himself, and faced with his own flaws, he too might be rehabilitated and restored to what he should be. As Fisher grows to trust the good doctor, and hesitantly falls in love with a beautiful young sailor (the radiant Joy Bryant), he gains the confidence to hunt down his personal demons.

The film offers some admirable lessons regarding fear and forgiveness. But it also lends a strange and unnecessary emphasis to the importance of a young man losing his virginity. While Davenport encourages Fisher to exercise caution in his new romance ("No escalating!"), later he congratulates him for sleeping with his girlfriend as though this maneuver represents an arrival at maturity. Antwone and Cheryl definitely look like they have what it takes for long–lasting marriage, but in a film that places so much emphasis on family and faithfulness, this endorsement of hasty intimacy seems irresponsible and contradictory.

J. Robert Parks (Phantom Tollbooth) says, "It works. I laughed, I cried, I left the theater with a bounce in my step. That it features a story about African Americans and the nature of family, without a lot of swearing and violence, is merely a bonus." David DiCerto (Catholic News) says, "Luke brings a refreshing vulnerability and tenacity to the role of Fisher. Overall, the story and Fisher's rocky journey to wholeness ring resoundingly true. The movie is a compelling testament to the sacred value and potential inherent in each and every person."

from Film Forum, 01/02/03

Antwone Fisher penned his autobiography, turned it into a screenplay, and finds himself now the subject of Denzel Washington's directorial debut, Antwone Fisher. Fisher's story is a painful testimony of childhood abuse, anger, forgiveness, and liberation. The film focuses on Fisher's relationships with two key individuals—his counselor and his girlfriend—who were instrumental in his healing.

For the first time, Washington is working on both sides of the camera. He draws strong performances from his talented cast, and turns in admirable work himself as Dr. Davenport, the naval psychiatrist who helps Fisher face his painful past. Newcomer Derek Luke makes a striking impression in the lead role. We come to care about this young naval officer who, prone to violent temper tantrums, needs redemption. Joy Bryant brings radiance and intelligence to the role of Cheryl, whose love for Fisher endures through breakdowns, challenges, and setbacks. They work together, sticking to the business of storytelling, avoiding clichés and cheap sentimentality. In a year full of stories about broken families and empty lives, Washington is to be commended for including scenes that place such importance on family relationships and prayer. In spite of the film's similarities to other recent stories of troubled boys—Good Will Hunting, for example—it becomes one of this year's most inspiring films.

Critics in the religious press are impressed. Michael Elliott (Movie Parables) says, "Many of the same qualities which we appreciate in [Washington's] acting we see in his directorial approach. There's an undercurrent of intelligence and humor which helps ground the film and a considerable amount of restraint in dealing with sensitive matters." Phil Boatwright (Movie Reporter) says "Washington … manages to explore the human psyche without resorting to exploitation or soapy contrivances. It's a good character study with an exceptional performance." Bruce Donaldson (Movieguide) says, "The acting … is excellent and the story is emotionally charged. The climax to the film is powerful and emotionally satisfying."

Darrel Manson (Hollywood Jesus) highlights one of the film's themes: "I'm glad that Antwone's story is not just about someone who pulled himself up by the bootstraps. It teaches us that we all have to rely on others. And we all have responsibilities to others who may well be relying on us."

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