I’ve really had to struggle with myself to actually find time to sit down and write something about Antwone Fisher. Somehow in my mind, much as it has at the box office, it’s been flushed to the background amidst a flurry of long awaited releases and Oscar hopefuls. Maybe that’s not fair, because there’s really nothing wrong with Antwone Fisher.
Fisher (Derek Luke) is a sailor with discipline problems. Prone to sharp outbursts of anger, he often ends up in brawls or in bad situations with his commanding officers. Sent to a naval psychiatrist for help, he’s given one last chance to get things in order before the Navy gives up on him entirely. Refusing at first to open up, eventually the young man cracks and reveals a horrific and tortured childhood. With the help of Naval psychiatrist Jerome Davenport (Denzel Washington) he starts confronting his past and searches out the family he’s never known.
There’s nothing unexpected about Fisher, Denzel Washington’s first directorial effort. It goes exactly where you’d expect to be taken and ends in exactly the way you know it will right from the film’s first moment. But Derek Luke is brilliant, truly brilliant. Maybe as a world-class actor himself, Denzel knows how to get the most out of his perfomers, or maybe Derek Luke is just an amazing talent. Whatever the case, through him we know Antwone Fisher. His quiet, complex, and damaged personality is slowly spread out onto the table in a gentle liquid coating, flowing simply and with ever increasing force throughout the entire movie.
Had the film simply stuck faithfully to Fisher, avoiding subplot and side-rail to give us a movie all about one quiet man, Washington might have created something flawless, if not particularly new. Sadly, he falters when sidetracking into the life of his own character, Doctor Davenport. Trips into his marital problems and personal difficulties end up as stilted dead ends that are continually thrust on us as interlude throughout what ought to be Antwone’s film. Washington should have focused more on Davenport as a mentor, rather than going out of his way to attempt to flesh him out as a similarly problematic man.
That said, Antwone Fisher is still a truly moving and worthwhile experience. It offers little of real excitement or panache, substituting instead deeply personal character discovery. Like everything he does, Washington delivers a typically layered and substantive experience not easily dismissed.