Denzel Washington puts himself on line for both the credit and the blame     

ANTWONE FISHER

An Illusion review by Joan Ellis


            Only a grump would enjoy finding fault with a movie that boasts several outstanding, even memorable performances.  To make things even harder, “Antwone Fisher” is based on a true story written in book form by Mr. Fisher himself.  This makes the reality of Fisher’s story even more poignant. 

As director, producer, and star, Denzel Washington puts himself on the line for both credit and blame – credit for casting, directing, and acting (usually that’s more than enough), and blame for letting the story slide into sugary quicksand toward the end.  The film, genuinely moving in presenting Antwone’s boyhood years, doesn’t need the emphasis of sentimentality.  It cries out for restraint that Mr. Washington wasn’t willing to use. 

                Antwone Fisher (Derek Luke), a sailor stationed aboard an aircraft carrier in San Diego, carries a ball of anger in his gut tied to a short fuse that is triggered regularly by the remarks of shipmates.  After one too many fistfights, Antwone, is sent to the base therapist, Dr. Davenport (Denzel Washington).  As Antwone’s story unfolds to the doctor in wrenching flashback, we watch him as a little boy suffering terrible emotional and physical abuse at the hands of his foster mother, Mrs. Tate (Novella Nelson).  Mrs. Tate is a vile woman, a graphic and foul example of a moral loser who wields her power over Antwone with the kind of force and ugliness than ruins lives. 

With the source of his anger explained, Antwone begins to build a new life – a little to easily. The movie begins its journey to a happy ending.  The sailor falls in love with Cheryl (a radiant Joy Bryant), a smart, beautiful, fellow sailor who responds a little too readily to his neediness.  It’s bewildering to watch her offer the troubled young man the gift of her love and her time.  Dr. Davenport, meanwhile, invites Antwone into his family life, an improbable breach for a psychiatrist.  In a world of the complex conundrums we humans create for each other, the Davenports’ childlessness and their growing feelings for Antwone as a surrogate son are small potatoes.

Fighting professional ethics, the doctor sends Antwone off to find his biological family.  The search and the reunion carry the movie and its fine performers off into the world of improbability and exclamation points.  When you go, and you should go just to see Derek Luke and Joy Bryant build an unlikely but greatly appealing romance, just be warned that at the two/thirds mark, the picture will betray itself.

                This is a big Hollywood production full of bright colors and navy spit and polish.  The details of the picture are as sharp as the sailor’s uniforms – everything clean, bright, disciplined. Derek Luke and Joy Bryant will no doubt climb to the first rank of Hollywood actors, and Denzel Washington, already there, will continue to do great work.  He should remember though, that his work as actor and director can stand alone. He needs no help from melodrama. 

 


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