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Category:    Home > Reviews > Drama > Antwone Fisher (Fox DVD)

Antwone Fisher


Picture: B-     Sound: B-     Extras: B     Film: B+



Powerful.  This was the word repeated over and over and over again by critics when Antwone Fisher (2002) received its decent theatrical film release from Fox’s Searchlight division.  It is fair to say critics were right, but they simply did not go far enough to explain what a remarkable film the directorial debut of master actor Denzel Washington actually was.


Despite the fact that it was based on a true story written as autobiography by the real life Mr. Fisher himself, a poet, survivor, Navy man, and now incredible screenwriter, that rare kind of breakthrough was not as noted.  This is not to criticize the critics who praised it, but to point out even the best critics seem to have lost their way to get behind a film and get the public in on it in a way that massive advertising dollars cannot.  It is a sad comment on the critical establishment we have often criticized in the negative here at the site.


One factor they may not have been able to overcome is an institutionalized racism in the media that killed the Black New Wave sooner than it would have run out otherwise.  Perhaps some doubted Washington directing, but it turns out he was absorbing incredible experiences with some of the greatest filmmakers of all time that he has worked with since his run on the TV classic St. Elsewhere gave him his first camera experiences with excellence.  Yes, this is a debut worth of Clint Eastwood’s Play Misty For Me, Tim Roth’s The War Zone, and Kevin Costner’s Dances With Wolves as exceptions to actors who try directing.


To overcome that media racism, it would have taken a Roger Ebert to push it the way he and the late (and MUCH missed) Gene Siskel went banzai pushing Hoop Dreams, the massive 1994 documentary that exposed the Oscar’s arrogant and racist voting procedures in that category.  Washington’s film did not get any Oscar consideration, though he and Halle Berry had just landed landmark Oscar wins for lead actors.  Fox also had the stunning Mark Romanek film One Hour Photo in the same Searchlight division.  The factor that may have most hurt the film promoted was simply that films are rarely this good, honest, intelligent, and have the kind of remarkable stories to tell films rarely bother with anymore.


So many films that were awful have been promoted as powerful, but Antwone Fisher is rare in that it is the real thing.  An overdose of so-called “feel good” movies that feel awful are now hurting films like this.  Also, if audiences (of any race, color, creed, etc.) thought they would be getting another typical such story from an actor who just happened to have the clout to make a feature film.  Why Fox and the producers did not understand these basics cost them money at the box office and audiences a chance to see a great film on the big screen.  Fortunately, the DVD is exceptional and widely available.


This nearly epic story involves the title character (Derek Luke in a brilliant early role) in his early days with the U.S. Navy.  He has a major temper problem and quickly finds himself locking horns with the Captain of his ship (James Brolin, in a welcome cameo).  We have heard of the many angry men who have joined the military and had their lives straightened out by the high standards service entails, and Fisher is sent to have three sessions of psychiatric help.  Dr. Jerome Davenport (Washington) is in the same position Robin Williams was in with Matt Damon in Good Will Hunting (1997), the patient giving the doctor the silent treatment.  Both keep having the “subject” return and conduct other work while waiting to hear about something, and both eventually start to speak, but the similarities end when Fisher’s life is revealed in bits and pieces not unlike a Mystery film.  The revelations are so real, convincing, natural and logical that you cannot stop being interested once you realize what a good guy he is deep inside.  Then you also want to know more to know yourself and people around you, and the film does not disappoint.


When the three sessions are over, it is obvious Fisher still needs help and Davenport decides to break protocol and keep seeing him.  It turns out Davenport is also in need of some resolutions in his life, as there is some unrest and pain in his marriage to his beautiful, loving wife Berta (Salli Richardson).  We have heard the stories of people who had tough lives and either became evil or overcame and triumphed, but Fisher’s story gives new meaning to the term “injustice” and cannot be spun away into commonness or easy explanation by anyone who considers themselves decent.  The young Fisher (played by Malcolm David Kelly & Cory Hodges) suffered through a living nightmare for which so many persons are to blame, but the film is not preachy about it or corny in stating the obvious.  It NEVER becomes sugary or schlocky and is always real about its subject matter.


Furthermore, it offers no simple solutions, easy answers, or lies to its audience to console their fears so they’ll go to the mall on a happy buying spree.  As a matter of fact, what it says about us and shows about the United States, pro and con, this is one of the most significant films about America made in the last few years.  Its power is in its range, which far exceeds race, as this could, can and does happen to far too many people in the U.S. day after day after day.  It is a massive triumph, made more amazing by the fact that this was actually made at a major Hollywood studio (!!!!!!) in an age where most such films are brutally soulless.  Child abuse, exploitation, abandonment, and disregard are a disgrace in the world’s most powerful nation, and I don’t care how many terrorists we are facing.  This is one of the wars at home with not enough of its battles begin won.  Antwone Fisher is truly a landmark and overwhelming light that will be recognized as a classic, especially after it becomes a touchstone hand held out for the millions who will see it and know there is a better life.  Not even its participants seem to realize what they have achieved here, but they soon will know, for such greatness will follow them for the rest of their lives.


The 2.35 X 1 image is anamorphically enhanced and nicely transferred for the most part, though sharpness can vary at times, while Video Red can occasionally be an issue.  Otherwise, it will take a D-VHS D-Theater High Definition tape to top this.  The Dolby Digital 5.1 AC-3 is better than usual for a dialogue-based film.  There is some subwoofer activity, but that is actually reserved (as a nice change of pace) for punctuating moments of the narrative.  Imagine that!  The fine extras include trailers, some fine featurettes on the making of the film, the U.S. Navy, and the real Antwone Fisher himself, and a thorough commentary by Washington and Todd Black.  Black is one of he smartest producers in Hollywood and all filmmakers should pay attention to him as much as Washington.


As a final example of how great the film gets, after the film has surprised us over and over again, Fisher goes to Cleveland to find his family and himself.  He is joined by a love interest, Cheryl (the incredible Joy Bryant), though even she cannot be with him for some of the darkest moments.  Just when we have been taken so many places on a personal level and through its locations, he has to go to the poorer part of the city.  It is so striking because the poverty of the place reflects the unnecessary poverty of this country and how low people can feel anywhere.  We all suffer, as the ever-brave singer Annie Lennox recently stated.  That is ultimately the absolute truth this film speaks loudly and clearly, a truth our critical film establishment could not get clearly out of their throats because most of the films they are subjected to are designed to suppress this truth.  Even they are victims, but Antwone Fisher refuses to play that game and that is why it is a winner!



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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