2002, PG-13, 117 min. Directed by Denzel Washington. Starring Denzel Washington, Derek Luke, Joy Bryant, Salli Richardson, Earl Billings, Kevin Connolly, Viola Davis, Novella Nelson.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Jan. 10, 2003
In his debut as a film director, Denzel Washington delivers a lean and engaging work that tells the based-on-true-life story of a young Navy seaman's difficult maturation process. It is the type of male “weepie” that has been gaining popular ground over the last couple of decades, but Washington keeps a focused rein on the drama and keeps it from sliding toward mawkishness or excess. Newcomer Derek Luke makes a strong impression in the role of the title character -- a young African-American man whose unspoken inner rage finds misdirected expression among his shipmates and superiors and seems likely to become his undoing in the Navy unless he learns to straighten up his act. Washington performs double duty in the picture as the base psychiatrist to whom Fisher reports for mandated therapy. At first cryptically uncommunicative, Fisher slowly warms to the good doctor's tough love, and through this talking cure (aided by lots of flashbacks), the love of a good woman -- fellow Navy enlistee Cheryl (Bryant), and the integration into surrogate family life at the invitation of the doctor's wife (Richardson), Fisher grows into sensible manhood in a way that his horrific childhood never allowed. Physically, emotionally, and sexually abused in the foster home where he was placed after being orphaned by his murdered father and jailhouse mother, Fisher suffered the tortures of the damned while internalizing his anger until his therapist helps him sort it all out. Things build quickly from here and before you know it Fisher appears to be a healed man with the help of his first adult experience of sex, his search for and discovery of his birth mother, and his pseudo-adoption into the family of the doctor and his wife. For someone as psychologically damaged as Antwone Fisher, his cure appears unrealistically easy. But this is Hollywood, where it's also an uncommon pleasure to witness a young black lead character put his sorry past behind him and graduate into responsible manhood and companionship. Speaking of delights, Antwone Fisher also features the amazing Viola Davis in a small role as Fisher's mess of a birth mother. 2002 has been this actress' year, newly coming to movies from the stage and knocking us out with three successive film performances this winter: as the doctor in Solaris, the maid in Far From Heaven, and now this. If treats like this are evidence of Washington's special gifts as a filmmaker, Antwone Fisher promises great things for the future.