Antwone Fisher

on December 19, 2002 by Shlomo Schwartzberg
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Actor Denzel Washington's directorial debut is a predictable and safe adaptation of the true story of Antwone Fisher (Derek Luke), a naval seaman who worked through deep anger and confronted his tumultuous past in order to move on with his life. Washington also stars in the film as Dr. Jerome Davenport, a kindly naval psychiatrist who, through helping Antwone, also helped himself. Yes, it's that kind of movie: a falsely inspirational, uplifting drama that suggests that a few psychiatric sessions, a dramatic revelation or two, and a final attempt at closure are all you need to be cured of your ills. It doesn't help that Fisher himself wrote the screenplay, based on his autobiography “Finding Fish,” and thus never makes himself look too bad or too screwed up. The film is further burdened by neophyte actor Derek Luke, who's an appealing presence but does not begin to suggest the rage that the abused Fisher must have felt. Luke merely looks petulant and annoyed.

It is easy to see why Denzel Washington felt drawn to Fisher's story. It's a positive tale of courage and determination but it also fits into the schematic of dozens of Hollywood movies, from “Ordinary People” to “Men with Honor.” Usually that makes for an upward trajectory of a film, where the ending is preordained and soothing. "Antwone Fisher" falls into that trap, too, and while it's smoothly directed and sweet, it's never challenging or provocative. The rest of the cast, including model turned actress Joy Bryant as the woman who believes in Antwone, is similarly bland. Regrettably, that extends to Washington himself. He's perfectly adequate as the doctor, but it's one of those dull, unimaginative performances that Washington sometimes gives onscreen. The life of Antwone Fisher may indeed be one that cries out for a movie treatment but you wouldn't know it from this tepid bio. Starring Derek Luke, Denzel Washington and Joy Bryant. Directed by Denzel Washington. Written by Antwone Fisher. Produced by Todd Black, Randa Haines and Denzel Washington. A Fox Searchlight release. Drama. Rated PG-13 for violence, language and mature thematic material involving child abuse. Running time: 121 min. Opens 12/20.

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