On Dec. 19, 2002, the first major motion picture directed by Denzel Washington, Antwone Fisher, was released theatrically in the United States. I was in college at the time, but already the eager film critic, I wrote a movie review, which since has never been published or seen by anyone beside myself until now. Enjoy:
A little boy stands alone in a field. A hand reaches for his, grabs it, and pulls him inside a barn. Pairs of eyes look on him affectionately. Faces surround him, smiling. A woman takes him in her arms and embraces him. The little boy is apparently home. There is nothing like the feeling of it and of family, the feeling that you're a part of something, the feeling that you're wanted, that you're loved and that you're not alone. Well, Denzel Washington captures that with his directorial debut of Antwone Fisher.
In the film, Derek Luke stars as the title character, a seaman in the Navy with anger management issues. Denzel Washington (Training Day and Malcolm X) co-stars as Dr. Davenport, a naval psychologist trying to help him.
I had high hopes about this film going into it, and this movie exceeded them. The entire film itself is a triumph, and if it is only an indication of the kind of director Denzel Washington will be, it is certain that he will have to make room in his life for yet another Oscar, only this time for his work behind the camera.
However, I can't cite for you any special effects, camera tricks, movements, lighting set-ups or sound sequences that I could tag as standout or signature here. Denzel is short, sweet, and simple in style, and lets the story stand out, while not drawing attention to himself as a director or actor. The story is superb, and what Denzel does is simply stay true to that, simply letting the story and Derek Luke shine.
From the opening sequence of that little boy who stands alone, the audience is then trust into the face of Antwone who awakes in a cold sweat, realizing the images before were just a dream. I, knowing a little about movies, realize that dreams are typically signals of hidden desires. In his dream, Antwone is surrounded by a loving family.
After he is of course reprimanded to Davenport for counseling, Antwone reveals that he spent most of his life as an orphan. It becomes obvious that what Antwone desires therefore is a family. He's lost, lonely, and lashing out because he feels that he doesn't have any one. That is until Davenport, but Davenport realizes that he can't be the family that Antwone needs. Antwone needs to find his own.
From that point forward, plot-wise, Antwone begins his search. Antwone's searching, and from the moment that he and Davenport first sit down together, the audience is searching, searching to uncover the layers of Antwone and figure out who he is and why he's behaving the way that he does, as Antwone in turn struggles to come to terms with his past and ultimately find peace.
Family is a theme that obviously stands out here as well as that of courage, facing one's fears and one's demons. There is even an analogy made in the film that the abuse that Antwone suffers is remnants of the legacy of slavery, a legacy possibly maintained by the breakdown of the black family or a lack of courage therein to face and deal with those demons of the past.
Derek Luke, a new actor, does a good job of confronting those demons here. I found him very convincing. As Antwone, he is strong, smart and fierce, but also charming, sweet and funny when the film needs it. There is an energy and presence here that grabs and makes the audience angry when he is, sad when he is, and finally steadfast when he is as well.
There is a pivotal scene toward the end of the film where Antwone confronts his mother and says, "I was there. You just couldn't find me." Luke's performance is excellent, handled very emotionally, and is representative of how he handles the entire film, even in some very dramatic scenes against his two-time Oscar-winning director.
The story is based on a true one with the screenwriter being the actual Antwone Fisher whose biography is translated gloriously in this film with the help of Luke's acting and Denzel's guidance.
Five Stars out of Five.
Rated PG-13 for language and material involving child abuse
Running Time: 2 hours.