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Antwone Fisher

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Antwone Fisher

Starring: Denzel Washington, Derek Luke
Director: Denzel Washington
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 120 Minutes
Release Date: January 2003
Genre: Drama

*Also starring: De'Angelo Wilson, Yolonda Ross, Stephen Snedden, Viola Davis

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Review by Harvey Karten
3 stars out of 4

Before the ethereal melodies of folk were crushed by the pounding rhythms of acid rock and punk, Harry Burleigh Thacker's spiritual was popular during the 1960's.. It went like this: "Sometimes I feel like a motherless child/Sometimes I feel like a motherless child/Sometimes I feel like a motherless child/A long way from home...Motherless children have a real hard time/ motherless children have a real hard time/motherless children have such a real hard time/so long so long so long." If anything can make a human being or any other member of the animal kingdom feel lost, it's being without a mother. Denzel Washington's first directorial effort, "Antwone Fisher," has a screenplay by the title character and is based on a real story of a Navy man who felt lost because he never knew his real mom, had a Dickensian background with a vicious foster parent and exploitative foster sister, and while he was so alienated that he carried a chip on his shoulder that could be dislodged by the most harmless comment, he thought that nothing was psychologically wrong.

Fisher got into so many fights that you'd probably figure that this is a fellow you're not going to like. Yet as played in a heartfelt, even charismatic manner by Derek Luke in a debut performance, Fisher becomes a guy you'd want to stand up in your theater seat to root for. His vulnerability, his secret desire to be loved while shucking off attempts at friendliness, afford the man a deserved sympathy from us in the audience, and though played conventionally like a TV movie-of-the-week, "Antwone Fisher" is elevated by two dandy performances from director Denzel Washington as psychiatrist Jerone Davenport attached with his wife to a West Coast Naval base and the aforementioned Derek Luke, When the two get together, Fisher figuratively on the couch with a now no-nonsense, now down-home commander giving him extra attention for reasons known to the doctor but not until the conclusion by the audience, you're sure that your own analysis could have been more successful if only you had such an understanding and empathetic fellow as your shrink.

Though the real Antwone Fisher became a security guard at Sony Pictures Studios after his stint in the Navy and had little writing experience, he was hired by producer Todd Black to script his own life: that's how compelling his story must have seemed to him. Is the story really that gripping? Not really, when you consider that in an age that more families are played on the big screen as studies in dysfunction, his background is unfortunately not too uncommon.

As shown with a few flashbacks, using young Malcolm David Kelley to portray the seven-year-old Antwone and Cory Hodges in the same role seven years later, Fisher recalls that his father was murdered by a girlfriend two months before Antwone was born and that he had come into the world at the Ohio State Correctional Facility courtesy of his incarcerated mother, Eva (Viola Davis), who promptly gave him up to an orphanage. Raised with a couple of other lads and an older foster sister by the abusive Mrs. Tate (Novella Nelson) who would from time to time tie the boy up and beat him with a wet towel while at other times his foster sister gave him a dislike for women by introducing the seven-year-old to sexual games Antwone nonetheless grew up to be a decent person except for one flaw. He'd fight as soon as he'd chat with his buddies on board ship. When one such altercation led him to a compulsory visit to psychiatrist Dr. Davenport (Denzel Washington), he at first refused to cooperate but later opened up. Thanks to the forwardness of pretty Cheryl Smolley (Joy Bryant) who worked at the base, he has a chance to overcome his hostility to the opposite sex and spends the rest of the story either chatting with the good doctor or engaging with his girlfriend on a search after a quarter of a century for his real mom.

How an encounter with his mother would help him "move forward," or how a handful of visits to a psychiatrist could make this fellow whole is anyone's guess. Once we accept Mr. Fisher at his word, though, we watch most impressive performances from the ensemble, particularly the give and take between Mr. Washington and Mr. Luke, as they run through instant psychoanalysis and in a surprise ending discover a counter- transference: the doctor and his wife (Salli Richardson) are helped more by their relationship with Fisher than is he by Davenport.

Copyright 2002 Harvey Karten

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